EAC urged to toughen on trade restrictions

The Observer. June 29, 2014

Geneva: The East African Community (EAC) should stop treating trade restrictions and government interventions, which distort markets, as a diplomatic matter, experts in climate and food security have said, and instead invoke alternative mechanisms to boost growth.

At the just concluded international conference on climate change and food security in Geneva, Switzerland, experts urged the EAC region to adopt punitive measures against partner states that deliberately impose trade restrictions under the guise of safeguarding national interests.

“Whereas trade reforms can improve regional food insecurity, regulatory barriers to trade and competition along the whole value chain need to be removed for East Africa to reach its potential,” Gerald Makau Masila, the executive director East Africa Grain Council Nairobi, said.

The conference was organised by CUTS International, a pro-trade non-profit organisation, under the theme Climate Change-Food Security-Trade Nexus: Linking EAC issues to the global context.

Pradeep S. Mehta, CUTS International’s Secretary General, stressed that policy linkages will help the EAC and global community consolidate their efforts to fight food insecurity through increased regional trade.

“How to harness the potential of trade in resolving EAC’s food security problem in the face of climate change is a key issue,” Pradeep said.

Flavia Munaaba, Uganda’s state minister for Environment, said food security remained a key concern for countries within the EAC.

“In the face of the worsening situation of climate change, and the changing international trade systems and policies, how to ensure secured food supply is a greater challenge for us,” Munaaba said.

Yonov Frederick Agah, the deputy director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), said policy makers continue to face the delicate balancing act between the interests of producers and consumers.

“Paragraph 6 of the Doha declaration, which frames current negotiations at the WTO stated that acting for the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development can and must be supportive” Yonova said.

Asad Naqvi, the economic affairs officer at the United Nations Environment Protection, said food price hikes, which are can be sparked off by protectionist policies and trade barriers, increase hunger, poverty and pressure on natural resources to produce more. Naqvi said investing in smallholder farms is an important way to increase food security.

“Continuing with business as usual is not an option in a world of increasing environmental scarcities, growing economic uncertainty and inequalities as well the continued existence of widespread poverty and unemployment,” Naqvi said.

Food security remains one of the main challenges in East Africa, where food production is challenged by extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

While cross-border agricultural trade has tremendously increased since the implementation of the Customs Union in 2005, food insecurity still persists in the region. Specifically, food prices remain relatively high in East Africa.

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