- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Africa left behind

A leading Conservative member of the British Parliament is calling for the creation of a “pan-Africa” free-trade zone to remove the “spaghetti bowl” of regulations and tariffs that have economically strangled the continent for decades.

Andrew Mitchell, the party’s spokesman for international development, revealed his plan on a visit to Washington last week, when he detailed his ideas in a speech at the Cato Institute.

“Over the last 50 years, the world has been getting freer, fairer, more open and richer,” he said. “Once desperately poor countries in Southeast Asia are now economic world leaders. But Africa has been left behind. It remains a continent mired in poverty.”

Mr. Mitchell suggested that Britain host a meeting for African leaders to propose the trade zone and that the Group of Eight top economies fund a secretariat to begin the work of urging the removal of trade barriers among African nations.

He noted that Africa’s share of world trade has declined to 2 percent from 6 percent 25 years ago. If South Africa is excluded from the statistics, Africa’s share of world trade falls to 0.6 percent, he said.

Mr. Mitchell also said that Africa cut its tariffs by 20 percent in the past 20 years, while the rest of the world slashed those trade barriers by 84 percent. Some of the highest tariffs in some African nations are imposed on their neighbors.

“For most Africans, it is harder to trade with those across African borders than with distant Europeans and Americans,” he said, citing a 1997 World Bank study that found sub-Saharan African nations charge an average tariff of 34 percent on agricultural products from other African nations and 21 percent on other African goods.

Mr. Mitchell criticized African governments for unnecessary regulations, corruption and bureaucratic delays, but he also chided Britain, Japan and the United States for clinging “stubbornly” to trade policies with “irrational protection.”

“Unfortunately, the trading systems between African nations at present are a spaghetti bowl of complex, small and regional agreements” that should be scrapped in favor of an African free-trade zone, he said.

“Countries which are open to trade enjoy higher living standards, longer life expectancies, better working conditions and better recognition of human rights,” Mr. Mitchell said. Such development happens irrespective of “race, creed or religion,” he added.

Diversity and unity’

The director of U.S. foreign aid programs emphasized the qualities that unite Muslims and non-Muslims, as he hosted a traditional Iftar dinner to mark the end of a day of fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan.

Randall L. Tobias talked about the themes of “diversity and unity” and noted that U.S. aid missions are located in most of the nations with a Muslim-majority population.

“Muslims come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and they embrace a variety of cultural traditions, social structures and lifestyles,” said Mr. Tobias, director of U.S. foreign assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Yet that which unites Muslims and non-Muslims alike is far greater than that which would divide us.”

Mr. Tobias hosted the dinner with Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University. Their guests included Ambassadors Daouda Diabate of the Ivory Coast, Aminata Maiga Djibrilla of Niger, Tijani Ould Mohamed El Kerim of Mauritania, Segbe Cyrille Oguin of Benin, Zamira Sydykova of Kyrgyzstan, Bisera Turkovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Khamrokhon Zaripov of Tajikistan.

Other guests represented the American Islamic Congress, the American Task Force on Palestine, the Free Muslims Coalition, the Hariri Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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