Experience in southern Africa suggests further that research and analysis in isolation from current policy debates and the actual experience of economic operators tends to miss many of the most immediately significant effects of moves towards free trade arrangements. There is, therefore, a need to link research and analysis to dialogue with policy makers and economic experts and within frameworks which allow for on-going processes of debate and analysis, which together feed directly into the policy making process.

     Indeed, all of this needs to be promoted in ways which take into account the human elements as well as the institutional and financial constraints which exist in developing countries and the widely differing economic, social and political circumstances of developing countries. This scenario suggests a need, then, for a network approach to research, and a strong commitment to promoting on going processes of analysis and debate, which bring in the major players at the national level.

The Proposal

The success of the EU-South Africa negotiations, in establishing practical mechanisms for dealing with this challenge, will have far wider relevance than southern Africa. Indeed, it can be seen as central to the future of EU-ACP relations and future US-Africa trade relations, given the growing emphasis of developed countries on the need for some form of reciprocity in their trade relations with developing countries. 

     The proposal is for a multi-annual, multi-pronged program, which seeks to ascertain the likely impact of moves towards free trade arrangements in a cross section of Caribbean, African and Pacific countries and regions. While the need for such a program strategy is undoubtedly urgent, there is a need to ensure that research and analysis is rooted firmly within national processes of dialogue and consultation. This approach recognizes processes, indeed, which may not yet be firmly established in all Caribbean, African and Pacific countries and regions. The strategy would therefore need to be multi-annual to allow for the variable speed with which national processes of research, analysis and dialogue can be carried forward. By bringing these various nationally based processes together within a single program or structures, they will be opened up for a cross fertilization of ideas and approaches which will promote a common approach to mutual problems across a diverse set of countries.

     Experience suggests that a multi-pronged approach must be designed that puts across clearly to economic operators certain complex trade policy questions which are relevant to their day-to-day activities and decision making processes. This is particularly important for those economic actors who have traditionally been marginalized from the processes of economic decision-making. The multi-pronged approach should support and encourage the central policy questions being taken up not only by government officials dealing with trade policy, but also research institutions, sectoral associations, trade unions, chambers of commerce, farmers’ associations, women’s groups, development-oriented non-government organizations and community based organizations.

     Central policy questions will, however, only be taken up by such organizations if they can clearly be seen to be of relevance to immediate -- local and national -- concerns. For example, Namibian communal area cattle farmers have no interest in the abstract question of the policy coherence between the deployment of domestic EU common agricultural policy instruments and the objective of EU development cooperation policy. However, Namibian communal area cattle farmers have a major interest in the prices paid by the local meat processing company (MEATCO) for their cattle and how these prices are effected by price trends on the South African beef markets which are heavily effected by the level of export subsidies provided by the EU to its beef traders.

     Unless trade policy issues such as the impact of moves towards free trade area arrangements can be brought down to the immediate concerns of particular economic (and social) groups, then a rich vein of understanding of the implications of moves towards free trade will be left untapped. Fair trade must evolve in a parallel method that recognizes both the needs and prioritized goals of affected populations in developing countries.

Robert J. Cummings, Ph.D.
Professor and Chairman
Department of African Studies
Howard University