Angola hints at Portugal trade cuts amid corruption spat

Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos on Tuesday hinted that tensions with Portugal endangered preferential trade ties between the two countries.

"With Portugal, unfortunately things are not going well," said Dos Santos in a State of the Nation address delivered in Parliament.

"There have been misunderstandings at the highest level of the state and the current political climate does not encourage the implementation of the previously announced strategic partnerships," said Dos Santos.

Portugal and its former colony in south-west Africa were mulling their first bilateral summit next year after announcing plans to bolster trade relations.

But sentiments soured between the two in the uproar that followed Portugal's Foreign Minister Rui Machete's September interview with Angolan radio in which he apologised for his country's probe into Angolan government officials.

Angola's wealthy are pushing millions of dollars into the struggling economy of their former colonial power, but critics have raised questions about corrupt Angolan revenues used in the investments.

In November last year, Portuguese media exposed investigations into fraud and money-laundering, targeting especially Angola's Vice-President Manuel Vicente.

'Unfortunate expression'
After the abortive September interview, Portugal's Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Machete had used an "unfortunate expression" in an attempt to appease Angola.

But on Tuesday, Dos Santos, in power for 34 years, brushed off the concerns as driven by Western racism.

"Organisations from Western countries have deliberately caused an uproar to intimidate Africans who want to accumulate assets and become rich," he said.

"So the general idea has been created that a rich African man is corrupt and should be suspected of corruption."

Portugal expressed "surprise" at Dos Santos' statements.

"The government reiterates its past and present commitment to the good relations between Portugal and Angola," it said in a statement.

Increased trade
Trade between Lisbon and Luanda has steadily increased in recent years amid the financial crisis in Portugal and strong economic growth in Angola, the continent's second-largest oil producer after Nigeria.

Luanda exports oil to Lisbon while importing food and consumer goods. It has also invested heavily in Portuguese real estate and banks.

More than 100 000 Portuguese nationals live in Angola and nearly 1 000 businesses are based there.

Critics in Portugal questioned their country's soft stance towards the Dos Santos regime, saying most of his people live in poverty.

Meanwhile, Angolans accuse Lisbon of tackling its unemployment by "exporting" jobless Portuguese to the former colony. – AFP

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