African leaders yesterday lashed out at rich nations for failing to tackle trade inequalities even as they make lofty pledges to boost aid.
The leaders, in Japan for a major development conference, urged industrialized nations to make it easier for them to export food, coffee and other products at fair prices.
“Pursuit of unfair trade practices by the big powers as well as difficult access for African products to markets of developed countries continue to penalize our states and significantly destroy their performance in the creation of riches,” Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore said.
Forty heads of states from Africa are participating in the three-day conference on economic growth, stability and climate change.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pledged yesterday to double aid to Africa by 2012 and to help the continent double rice production to ease food shortages.
In recent weeks and months, soaring prices for essential foodstuffs such as rice, wheat and corn in some of the world’s poorest nations have sparked demonstrations across Africa.
But some African leaders said their countries were more concerned about unfair trade deals than a lack of things to eat.
“There is a big problem of food in the world now and a problem of energy. In Uganda, there is a problem of a different kind. We have too much food and no market to export it to,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said. “Why? Because of bad policies in Europe, America and even in Japan.”
He said his country was facing “a real struggle” to get a fair deal for its natural resources, including agricultural and mineral products.
For example, a kilogram of unprocessed Ugandan coffee would be sold for US$1 at home but for US$14 in Britain after it has been refined, he said.
“I see some people here who are called donors,” Museveni told the conference audience. “Now, I really have a problem with that definition. Because I don’t know who’s helping who.”
Fair trade campaigners say that while poor countries have been forced to open up their markets, rich nations have kept unfair practices such as farm subsidies, while multinational companies fail to give farmers a fair deal.
Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba urged Japan to boost direct investment in Africa and open up Japanese markets to African products.
“Japan can weave with Africa a strategic partnership which is mutually beneficial,” he said.
The gathering in Yokohama, near Tokyo, is seen as an effort by Japan to expand its influence in Africa, where China and India are also seeking closer ties and supplies of natural resources to fuel their rapid economic growth.
Japan also announced a US$2.5 billion initiative to help its companies do business in Africa, paving the way for private sector investment, which some African leaders said was sorely lacking.