EU-Africa Summit urged to tackle deep rift over trade agreement

Tripoli - Pana 29/11/2010

EU-Africa Summit urged to tackle deep rift over trade agreement

By Kennedy Abwao, PANA Correspondent

African leaders meeting with their European counterparts here Monday are set to demand a major shift in the European Union’s approach to ongoing negotiations over a new trade pact, in which the EU is demanding a greater access to African markets in exchange for investments, PANA reported Sunday.

’We hope we can discuss the contentious issues during this Summit,’ African Union Commission’s Deputy Chairperson Erastus Mwencha told PANA on the sidelines of an EU-Africa Business Forum, which ended here Saturday.

The Forum gathered senior company executives from Africa and Europe to discuss various topics, including the availability of raw materials for industrial production between the two blocs.

The EU is offering 6.5 billion Euros over the next five years to entice the West African region to negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), under which the EU seeks to get guarantees of unfettered access to the African markets.

But opponents of this proposed trade agreement say the African economies are not prepared and ready to accommodate stiff competition from European goods, due to the region’s high levels of industrialisation.

Besides, African civil society campaigners opposed to the EPAs said the African governments cannot survive if import taxes are severely affected under this pact.

Should the Africans agree to deep cuts in the import taxes sought under the supposedly reciprocal trade agreement being negotiated, these opponents said the fight against poverty would be lost because African sta tes would lose the domestic revenues, which is crucial for funding free education, health and crucial services in most African states.

’Africa is not able to pursue its domestic agenda under the current context,’ Mwencha confirmed.

The AU, in reaction to the complaints from its 53 member states, ordered a total freeze in the EPA negotiations until all the impending disagreements are sorted out with the EU.

But the Eastern African states, rushing to beat a deadline for the signing of an interim pact in 2008 to avoid the prospect of losing lucrative export opportunities to Europe, signed an interim agreement.

’It is clear that the reinvigorated partnership holds immense potential for both Africa and the EU,’ Mwencha stated. ’However, to achieve the desired win-win, Africa and the EU must work together to ensure that their respective interests are preserved.’

He said the EPAs could affect the rate of economic integration in Africa, with specific effects on the private companies operating in Africa.

’Africa sees its future in the consolidation of the ongoing regional and continental integration and, therefore, any trade engagement must be supportive of such processes,’ Mwencha said.

Meanwhile, Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel, whose country is gearing to take over the European Presidency, said the EU-Africa Summit needs to tackle the outstanding issues over the economic pact at the high est political levels.

’This agreement should reflect will and reality. The debate on the partnership agreement is required at the highest political levels,’ Michel said.

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source: PANA