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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 12:10 GMT
Africa tackles trade reform
Mauritius beach
The meetings have a pleasant setting
US trade experts are meeting with their African counterparts to thrash out controversial issues surrounding trade reform.

Some 300 delegates, including 40 ministers from 31 African countries attending the week-long meeting on the holiday island of Mauritius.

If you don't look after your people, you can't have a good economy

Robert Zoellick
The US has stressed that it wants to work with Africa in order to boost the poor continent's share of international trade.

But the US team, led by Robert Zoellick, is almost certain to face a long list of complaints about the farming subsidies which keep African produce out of US markets.

"The African producer is a farmer, he is a guy who suffers extremely as a result of the subsidies that are given to farmers in America," Vijay Makhan, head of trade and industry at the African Union, said ahead of the meeting.

Protests banned

The meeting follows the introduction in the US of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was passed by the US Congress in 2000.

AGOA offers improved access to US markets to African countries abiding by certain conditions of market reform and good governance.

It is estimated to have brought in foreign investment worth $1bn to Africa and has mainly been used to build textile factories.

But only a handful of countries have managed to take advantage of the new system, with most unable to fulfil the necessary criteria.

United Africa

Robert Zoellick stressed the need for African countries to clean up their acts on Monday.

"If you don't look after your people, you can't have a good economy," he said.

"We want to work with governments to improve conditions."

African nations, meanwhile, were asking the US to treat the continent as one and not pursue selective negotations on free trade agreements.

"We should be talking of US-Africa, not US-some country - we must be careful not to be divided amongst us," said Erastus Mwencha, secretary general of Africa's biggest 20-country trade bloc, Comesa.

President George W Bush was originally set to attend this week's meeting, but has since pulled out due to the situation in Iraq.

Anti-globalisation protests had been banned from the island, but a court ruled on Monday that protests should be allowed to go ahead.

See also:

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