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Last Updated:  Friday, 21 February, 2003, 17:16 GMT
France urges rethink on African trade
Kenyan farmer
Subsidies close Western markets to many African farmers
French President Jacques Chirac has proposed freezing some farm subsidies in rich countries, in an attempt to help the agrarian economies of Africa.

Speaking at the end of a two-day summit with African leaders, Mr Chirac urged fellow developed countries to join France in a moratorium on protectionist help for domestic farmers.

Such an agreement, Mr Chirac argued, should be valid until global trade rules were revised in two years' time.

Development economists often argue that subsidies in rich countries effectively lock poor developing-world farmers out of Western markets, and provide unbeatable competition within developing economies themselves.

But Mr Chirac's proposal, if serious, has little chance of appealing to his fellow leaders, for whom agricultural subsidy is a crucial political issue.

Time for change

France is often criticised for its seemingly contradictory stance on trade, urging investment in Africa's economies, while remaining the fiercest supporter of subsidies for its own farmers.

Jacques Chirac among African leaders
France has long been oriented toward Africa

This should now change, Mr Chirac said.

He told African leaders that it was time to "work on a new strategy for the development of African agriculture," admitting that developed nations had not been "attentive enough to Africa's real economic and trade needs".

African countries dependent on farm exports for their survival needed "privileged and sustainable access" to markets in developed countries, Mr Chirac said.

In addition, certain key products - notably cotton, coffee and cocoa - should benefit from price support in order to ensure their mainly African producers a decent return.

Deaf ears

Mr Chirac said he would urge both the European Union and the Group of Eight industrialised countries to back his proposals.

G8 ministers are meeting in Paris this weekend, mainly to discuss ways of safeguarding the global economy against the threat of war.

Mr Chirac's proposal is unlikely to be received with cheer by his fellow G8 leaders, however.

Many European countries are wary of tinkering with farm subsidies, which are politically extremely sensitive.

And few other countries share France's focused interest on Africa - Spain looks to Latin America, for example, while the UK has loyalties spread around the world.

'Complicated question'

Economic development in Africa is due to top the agenda, however, when the G8 meets for its full summit in June.

But most economists have tended to prefer African development plans based on liberalising investment and more cleverly targeting aid, rather than interfering in the market for individual commodities.

The US warned on Sunday that it would not unilaterally cut farm subsidies and tariffs, following talks among trade and agriculture ministers at the World Trade Organisation on farm aid reform.

In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission called the issue of African farm exports a "complicated question... that cannot be easily resolved."



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