|International Trade and Sustainable Development: Accessing Information on WTO, NEPAD, ACP–EU Agreements for Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria.
The phenomenon of failed and failing states, the serious debt burden of developing nations and increasing national poverty in Africa coupled with the challenges of endemic corruption in government means that, increasingly, there are fewer resources available to provide social goods to the teeming masses of citizens and residents in African states. The result is growing individual poverty, which in the case of Nigeria is put at over 50 % of the population. This reality presents an urgent need to ensure that the available resources are judiciously managed to provide for the needs of people presently without jeopardizing the sustainability of future generations. Beyond this, fiscal transparency, an essential element of good governance, demands wider and more inclusive inputs from civil society.
Implementing their obligations under the WTO agreement has brought many problems for the developing countries. These problems include the prohibition of investment measures and subsidies, making it harder to encourage domestic industry; import liberalization in agriculture, threatening the viability and livelihoods of small farmers whose products face stiff competition from cheaper imported foods. Many of these food items are artificially cheapened through massive subsidy. Other aspects of the problem includes the effect of a high IPR regime that has led to exorbitant prices of medicine and other essentials, as well as patenting, by Northern Corporations, of biological materials originating in the South, the higher cost for and lower access by developing countries to industrial technology. These problems raise the serious issue whether developing countries can presently or in the future pursue development strategies (including industrialization, technology upgrading, development of local industries, food security and maintenance of local farms and agriculture and the fulfillment of health and medicinal needs).
These problems arise from the structural imbalances and weaknesses of the WTO agreements. The developing countries do not have the manpower and financial resources to cope with negotiations on new issues as well as other items on the agenda. Given the problems and imbalances in world trade, there is the need for a rethinking of the dominant model of trade policy that has advocated across-the board rapid liberalization for developing countries. Many developing countries do not posses the requirements for sustained export growth. Yet, they have been under pressure to rapidly liberalize their exports. Since the developing countries form the majority of the WTO membership, the development of these countries should be the first concern of the WTO.
In a study conducted by DevNet which critically examined the relevance of International Trade to the Nigerian Economy, it was found that Indeed, the rise of the oil sector in Nigeria is coterminous with the demise of the agricultural sector. This scenario has culminated to mass unemployment in rural areas invariably leading to large-scale rural-urban drift. In addition, governments’ liberalization policies since the mid-1980s have precipitated the displacement of farmers leading to various dimensions of economically induced and institutionalized migration. Not surprisingly, major cities in Nigeria including Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Aba, Kano, Port Harcourt, Abuja, Kaduna etc, have witnessed meteoric increases in population arising from the inflow of migrants in search of non-existent jobs. The resultant effects of the socioeconomic transformations during the past three decades have been increases in poverty levels and crimes, such as 419, drug addiction, prostitution etc. In spite of the huge revenues from oil, Nigeria remains a highly indebted poor country with GDP per capita of US$380 in the year 2000. The economy continues to show large budget deficits, which is the core of the country’s economic difficulty.
A number of factors responsible for the collapsed of agriculture in Nigeria, include substantial revenues from the oil sector, trade liberalization and withdrawal of government support for the sector. The withdrawal of subsidies under liberalization resulted in high cost of agricultural inputs beyond the reach of local farmers. The high cost of agricultural inputs has only succeeded in making the sector unattractive thereby pushing very vulnerable peasant farmers in rural areas to seek alternative avenues for survival. As can be expected, productive activities in the agricultural sector are now being gradually replaced with economically rewarding but less productive ventures in the private sector. These include petty trading and the proliferation of speculative businesses and numerous telephone booths or “Communication Centres” across the country. In particular, trade liberalization resulted in dumping of artificially cheapened products by Northern subsidies on the domestic market, which has made local framers uncompetitive. In addition, the reliance on rain-fed agriculture and use of traditional agricultural tools in the face of rapidly increasing population has been major setbacks to agriculture in Nigeria. Furthermore, lack of credit financing from the banking sector to prospective farmers has also negatively impacted on the growth of the agricultural sector. This has raised fears about food security, which in itself undermines national development-a hungry man is an angry man.
DevNet, a national Network of NGOs is desirous of accessing information on Nigeria International Trade Commitments, the Negotiation Process and how these all impacts on national development processes, especially food security and trade.
It also seeks to develop civil society’s capacity to respond appropriately and participate in the negotiation processes of the various international trade commitments such as WTO and NEPAD. It has support in that the various agreements require substantial civil society input into country trade policy and negotiation processes.
Furthermore, DevNet believes it has the appropriate platform for the articulation of civil society input into emergent national discourse, in view of its historical facilitation of Nigeria and indeed West African contribution to major World Summits in the last ten years.
DevNet is hereby leading an initiative to create a pool of resources from which the government can draw when negotiating trade policies. The current practices where policies are negotiated without any input from the civil society is simply unacceptable given the catalytic roles major civil society groups have played in global governance over the past decade. The UN has in itself recognized this role through the establishment of a structure for civil society input into its work.
The CSO Working Group on Globalization, Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD-Nigeria) is a platform for articulating CSO inputs into the Nigerian, Regional and Global Trade Agenda. It was formed in May 2004 by participants at a series of National Stakeholders Workshops held across the country facilitated by DevNet with the Support of Heinrich Boll Foundation, Lagos. .
DevNet will provide Secretarial responsibilities and manage this website.
This website will:
1. Facilitate the understanding of the entire business of International Trade, Globalization, WTO, NEPAD, ACP-EU Agreements on National Development with special focus on Food Security and Sustainable Development.
2. Facilitate the Capacity Building of Civil Society Stakeholders in the articulation of and participation in the negotiation processes of International Trade agreements especial WTO, ACP-EU and NEPAD.
3. Facilitate Civil Society / Government Dialogue on Nigeria’s International Trade Commitments.
4. Facilitate the establishment and strengthening of a Civil Society / Government Stakeholders Working Group on International Trade and Sustainable Development.
5. Facilitate the articulation of Civil Society input into the Federal Governments Trade Policy, its strategic focus and deliverables.
6. Facilitate the establishment of institutional frameworks for cascading the knowledge and implementation of the Governments Trade Policy at State and Local Government Levels.
7. Facilitate general public awareness of International Trade issues.