Fair and ethical trade can drive development

Africa needs to deal with new trends such as globalisation, trade liberalisation and the emerging BRIC states. Yet another global trend is the greater focus on trade rather than aid  as a driver of development. What does all this mean for Africa?
This year’s holder of Claude Ake visiting chair, Victor Adetula of the University of Jos in Nigeria, will address these issues in his research.
– Over time, aid has failed to increase the level of development. Therefore it is quite logical to try something else. However, for trade to become a driver of development, it must be fair and ethical, argues Victor Adetula.

International trade should not be conceived as a zero-sum game: all parties should be able to make some gains and therefore promote global development. Yet, throughout history all trade between the North and Africa has been conducted in a manner such that the North gains at Africa’s expense. Even in postcolonial Africa this pattern of trade continues, since the structures and institutions had already been set in place. The logic of the trade system favours political elites, just as corruption favours them.
– This is why the structures persist. Neither aid nor trade can bring much development unless structures and institutions are changed. I intend to devise policy recommendations regarding these issues during my tenure as Claude Ake visiting chair, notes Victor Adetula. 

One novelty regarding trade in Africa is the so-called BRIC countries. They have invaded Africa over the last decade and made huge investments in almost all sectors. However, Victor Adetula isn’t impressed by how these investments have been made.
– In many cases, Chinese and Indian investors and businessmen in African markets have been associated with unethical agreements that fail to respect human rights and good governance.

Exploitation of domestic labour is repeatedly reported. Of course, a great part of the responsibility also rests on the African governments that signed these agreements, he states. When African governments are careless and generally lack the capacity to negotiate, and partners from the North don’t commit to equity and good global governance, how can Africa achieve the much desired structural changes that are necessary for the better use of the continent’s resources?
– Both sides have a responsibility to make this happen. For instance, African governments need to ensure a better business environment through appropriate trade/investment laws and regulations, while their partners in the North have a responsibility to promote mutually beneficial trade, aid and investment relationships. Also, shared learning and the exchange of ideas on what works best is important. For example, if state subsidies are successful for European farmers, they can also be for farmers in Africa. This requires sincerity of purpose and genuine political will on both sides, says Victor Adetula.

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