/ 9 December 2007

Africa spurns new trade deals with EU

Most African leaders on Sunday rejected new trade deals demanded by the European Union, dealing a blow to efforts to forge a new economic partnership at the first European Union-Africa summit in seven years.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade bluntly dismissed Brussels’ pressure to impose new trade deals by December 31, when a waiver by the World Trade Organisation on preferential trade arrangements for developing countries expires.

The EU wants to replace expiring trade accords with so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) or temporary deals, which anti-poverty groups have criticised for failing to provide protection for Africa’s poor farmers and its fragile industry.

”We are not talking any more about EPAs, we’ve rejected them … we’re going to meet to see what we can put in place of the EPAs,” Wade angrily told reporters on the second and final day of the summit on the banks of Lisbon’s Tagus River.

”I agree with this spirit of creating a new relationship [with Europe], but we have to define what that relationship is,” Wade said, adding: ”It’s clear that Africa rejects the EPAs”.

While around a dozen African countries have recently agreed interim trade deals with the EU, most African leaders argue they need more time to prepare their weaker economies and societies for the impact of the end of preferential trade arrangements.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso rejected the African charge Brussels had strong-armed countries over trade, saying in a statement it was ”indispensable to safeguard trade flows” between Europe and Africa after December 31.

”Our objective has always been and remains to conclude Economic Partnership Agreements which aim at strengthening regional integration and bring genuine development to African countries,” Barroso said.

”Obviously this is difficult because it implies change,” Barroso said. ”It is a challenge for both Africans and Europeans and will require time.”


Pressured by China’s growing investment and influence in Africa, the Europeans aimed at the summit to agree an action plan to revitalise future ties with the African continent.

The atmosphere at the meeting had already been strained by differences of opinion over how to deal with Zimbabwe’s leader, Robert Mugabe. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Africa’s image was being damaged by a lack of resolve to stop human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

The two continents, close neighbours through geography but worlds apart in terms of development, held their first summit in seven years hoping to put in place mutually beneficial trade terms and cooperation over immigration and peacekeeping.

But the thorny trade issue, which was especially pertinent because of the end-of-year deadline, upset the summit’s efforts.

Merkel said EU leaders would discuss trade with Africa at an EU summit on Friday. ”We are going to look again if Europe can be more flexible,” Merkel told reporters, adding the December 31 deadline was not fixed in stone.

An EU spokesperson said foreign ministers would meet on Monday to discuss whether to raise tariffs on African nations that reject accords.

”From a legal point of view there is this possibility [to raise tariffs], but we have to take a political decision,” said European Commission spokesperson Amadeu Altafaj Altafaj.

Anti-poverty campaigners argued the trade deals would be damaging for poor African economies.

”Europe must desist from this madness and commit to do all they can to ensure countries are not made poorer by ill-thought out trade deals. They must stop pressuring the remaining countries to sign,” said Oxfam trade spokesperson Amy Barry. – Reuters