"Poor countries have been taken for a ride along a very rough road" a CAFOD partner said yesterday. Calls for 'free trade' have been rejected by Eliud Ngunjiri, Kenya's leading expert in agricultural trade ahead of this December's meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Ngunjiri, director of Kenyan-based agricultural development organisation, RODI (Resources Oriented Development Initiative), is in the UK as part of a campaign led by the aid agency, CAFOD, to highlight how global trade rules prevent poor countries like Kenya from working their way out of poverty. Over the next few weeks he will speak to parishes, community groups and universities on trade rules and the World Trade Organisation. Eliud will also take his message to Hong Kong in December where he will be a delegate at the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation. "Agriculture is the mainstay of livelihoods in Kenya. We are leading producers of goods such as tea, coffee, cut flowers, and macadamia nuts, yet we remain among the poorest countries in the world. Why? One of the main reasons is unfair trade policies both at national and international level", explains Eliud. "Trade rules impact heavily and negatively on the small farmer. It is the trade rules that continue to perpetuate poverty. Free trade will do nothing to alleviate these pressures; indeed it will only make matters worse." Over the past few decades, world leaders have been calling for greater market liberalisation and free trade, supposedly as a means of supporting and helping poor countries to develop. Eliud, a former civil servant in Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, however disagrees. "Since before the GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs) there have been calls for countries to open their markets. The poorer countries have done what has been asked of them, but what have they got in return? The richer countries have not kept their promises to cut subsidies and remove their own trade barriers. Basically, we have been taken for a ride along a very rough road. "Free trade sounds like a good idea, but a free market between two unequal partners is not a free market. When we are told to liberalise, I say, remind me of one country that started this way? The proponents of free trade started by protecting their markets and, even now when poverty on the scale of that which exists in developing countries today is history in their own domains, they still protect their markets. What logic is there in telling infant industries not to protect themselves? If they cannot protect their industries, the results will be disastrous." "It does not make any sense to impoverish people with one hand while reaching around with the other to resuscitate them through aid and relief." Eliud argues that the gap between the decision-makers at the global level and the farmers affected by trade rules should be bridged. "World leaders need to start listening to the farmers; after all you can't fight poverty if you are at the forefront of creating it. The views and concerns of the farmers must be heard. They must be allowed to stand and take charge of their own destiny." While in the UK, Eliud will also attend the Trade Justice mass lobby of Parliament next Wednesday 2 November where he will help thousands of Make Poverty History campaigners call on the Trade Minister, Alan Johnson MP, to ensure developing countries are given a fair deal at the WTO.
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