The Monitor (Kampala)

20 November 2007

Uganda: CHOGM; We Want Fair Trade, Not Aid

column

About 5,000 heads of government, delegates and the international media descend on the capital Kampala this week, not only to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), but also to have a feel of what Britain's greatest statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, described as the Pearl of Africa.

The theme for this year's historic event is: transforming Commonwealth societies to achieve political, economic and human development. The theme is a perfect reminder about the growing gap between the developed world and the so-called third world countries in terms of socio-economic and general human development.

This is why Chogm is a crucial forum to address the fundamental causes of this inequality and work out practical solutions to bridge the gap. This target is particularly important because the rich nations are getting richer while the third world is becoming poorer.

The Chogm forum should not forget that the social and political revolutions of the 19th century were partly due to this inequitable social conditions in the various societies while ideological polarity(division) was to cause two world wars in the last century.

Africa has a great potential, with vast minerals and a huge total land area which if well managed with good leadership, trading policies and fair trade regulations can spark a second industrial revolution. Chogm should place emphasis on fair trade among the member countries and work to eliminate the handouts from the first world in form of aid.

Needless to say, that apart from fanning corruption , aid plays to the advantage of the giver- the richer nations of the world which keep the poor -mineral rich countries dependent and in many ways, economically colonised. What we need in the Commonwealth group is fair competition and eliminating subsides that give developed countries unfair advantage.

For instance according to the UN 2005 Human Development report, the trade barriers for the poor countries exporting to the rich countries are on average three to four times higher than those of the rich countries exporting to each other.

The Commonwealth leadership seems to have taken note of this worrying situation and is now focusing on trade regulation as an area of growing importance to Commonwealth countries and, correspondingly, for the Economic and Legal Section (ELS) in the Special Advisory Services Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

ELS has extended its traditional platform in this field- from designing legislative and institutional arrangements in trade-related areas, particularly investment and competition policy- to providing legal advice on implementing multilateral trade rules through the establishment of sustainable regulatory frameworks.

And there shouldn't be any artificial bottlenecks in fast tracking this effort because the Commonwealth Secretariat which is the central administrative organ of the Commonwealth community is mandated, among others, to promote the rule of law as an essential part of its efforts to enhance good governance and development in member countries.

The legal cooperation is a unique feature of the Commonwealth, made possible because member countries have similar legal systems, most based on or greatly influenced by the common law principles and practices.

It's imperative therefore that the Commonwealth delegates urgently hammer out a roadmap that will harmonise trading patterns by putting in place solid trading policies which is fair to all members.

All the member countries should be encouraged to actively make good use of the Special Advisory Services Division (SASD) of the Commonwealth, which focuses on Debt Management, Economic and Legal Services, Enterprise and Agriculture, and Trade.

Member countries especially the host Uganda, should also engage the Economic and Legal department of the Commonwealth secretariat which provides technical assistance that focuses on reform of regulatory environments in Commonwealth countries to encourage investment and export growth.

The underlying rationale is to help members derive greater benefit from the opportunities provided by globalisation. Economic cooperation in the regional states should remove trade barriers, harmonise taxes, guarantee free access to markets across borders and establish joint infrastructure.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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