African Union Spurns EU Pressure to Sign Trade Deals
December 8, 2007
By Mike Cohen and Jeffrey T. Lewis, Bloomberg.com
The African Union called on its 53 member nations to resist pressure from the European Union to swiftly sign trade accords that would oblige them to open up their markets to a wider range of goods and services.
"Speeding up these negotiations will bring no benefits,'' Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the African Union commission, said at the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon today, adding that a hasty deal might come at "a tremendous cost to the rural African populations and to African industry. We need to take the necessary time to conclude fair agreements. There are so many questions that need replies.''
A series of preferential trade agreements between the 27- nation EU and 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is due to expire at the end of the year. The EU is pressing for the adoption of new economic partnership agreements, which are often referred to as EPAs and cover trade in agricultural and industrial goods, services, investment regulations and competition policy.
European Commission President Jose Barroso defended the proposed treaties and said some countries had already agreed to sign, without specifying which ones.
"They will turn our trading relationship into a healthy, diversified, development-oriented partnership,'' he told the summit. "They are tools at the center of our common development goals.''
Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have signed interim agreements that will regulate trade in goods with the EU until a final accord is negotiated.
The African Union's objectives include, among others, the promotion of "sustainable development at the economic, social and cultural levels as well as the integration of African economies,'' according to the organization's Web site. It is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Oxfam International, a U.K.-based alliance of groups fighting poverty, yesterday staged a protest near the conference against what it said was the EU's bid to impose unfair trade deals on Africa.
Oxfam's critical view isn't shared by World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. "Trade liberalization in many of these countries could and should be a benefit,'' she told reporters yesterday in Lisbon.
A report by the European Centre for International Political Economy, a Brussels research institute, also backed expanded EU- Africa trade links.
"EPAs could be important development instruments,'' said the institute in a report published last month. "Not to seize this moment would be a significant opportunity forgone.''
A number of the EU countries at the summit are former African colonial powers including the U.K., France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal.
Christopher Alden, an Africa expert at the London School of Economics and author of the book "China in Africa,'' said EU countries have too often failed to use business opportunities in Africa.
"The EU hasn't neglected Africa in terms of development assistance programs but rather not looked to it as an investment opportunity -- the Chinese approach -- but rather more as a burden stemming from the colonial legacy,'' Alden said in an interview.