Juncker offers EU-Africa trade deal in new ‘partnership of equals’

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker held out the promise of an EU-Africa trade pact on Wednesday as part of a ‘partnership of equals’ between the two continents, signalling Europe’s stronger involvement in Africa, where Chinese influence is rapidly spreading.

Giving the final State of the Union address to this Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (12 September), Juncker described Africa as Europe’s “twin continent”.

“We need to invest more in our relationship with the nations of this great and noble continent. And we have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid. Such an approach is beyond inadequate, humiliatingly so,” he said.

“Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much.”

Juncker told MEPs that he and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda and chairperson of the African Union, had “agreed that donor-recipient relations are a thing of the past.”

“We agreed that reciprocal commitments are the way forward. We want to build a new partnership with Africa,” said Juncker.

If his comments are translated into concrete action, it will have implications for the successor to the Cotonou Agreement, a development and trade pact which covers 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, and is due to expire in 2020.

Talks on a new pact were due to begin this autumn but have been complicated by divisions among EU member states on how to treat migration in the pact, and by the African Union’s desire for Africa to have a stand-alone deal with the EU.

“The C’s and P’s risk being left out,” one EU official told EURACTIV. But others are sympathetic to the African Union.

“The AU evidently would like to see more recognition of an EU-Africa partnership, and I think that’s very valid,” a Commission official told this website.

Juncker told the Parliament he believed “we should develop the numerous European-African trade agreements into a continent-to-continent free trade agreement, as an economic partnership between equals”.

Africa prepares to drive a hard trade bargain with EU

Increasing trade between the EU and the ACP (African-Caribbean-Pacific), particularly African countries, lay at the heart of the ambition of the Cotonou Agreement. That was supposed to be embodied by regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the EU.

A paper by the EU executive accompanying the speech stated that “the long-term perspective is to create a comprehensive continent-to-continent free trade agreement between the EU and Africa”.

The EU will also provide €50 million to fund the African Union’s negotiation and technical work on the free trade area.

However, the Commission paper hinted that the existing Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and trade deals with North African countries should form the ‘building blocks’ of co-operation.

Only one EPA – with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – has been implemented, with many African regional blocs complaining that the terms offered by the EU were unfavourable.

Juncker’s remarks are likely to go down well with African leaders, who are keen to negotiate improved trade terms with the EU, and see their African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) – which was signed by 49 countries and launched in March – as the basis for a continent-to-continent pact.

“ACFTA should be the main instrument for a free trade agreement with the EU,” Carlos Lopes, the African Union’s chief negotiator on the post-Cotonou talks, told EURACTIV.com. He added that this would be “very much in the interest of the EU”.

Lopes also told EURACTIV he was confident that the five countries left to sign – with the possible exception of Eritrea – would have signed the ACFTA by the African Union’s next summit in January 2019.

The Commission has stepped up its programmes aimed at hiking private investment to Africa. At the centre is its External Investment Plan, launched two years ago, which promises to direct more than €44 billion in public and private investment.

The EU executive says that by 2020, the EU will have supported 35,000 African students and researchers through its Erasmus programme, a figure that it says should reach 105,000 by 2027.

Juncker pointed out that 36% of Africa’s trade is with the European Union compared to 16% for China and 6% for the United States. But the EU’s economic and political influence on the continent is rapidly being eroded by China, whose President Xi Jinping ear-marked an addition $60 billion in investment in Africa in the coming years at the Forum for China/Africa Co-operation earlier this month.

 

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