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Environment

Ahead of summit, groups urge EU to reexamine Africa trade policy

Several German development groups have called for improvement in EU trade policy with Africa ahead of a joint EU-Africa summit.

chickens on a chicken farm

Ghana's poultry industry is near a halt due to uneven trade with the EU

Some non-governmental groups have warned the European Union not to let negotiations fail on a free trade agreement between African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and the EU, when the parties meet for a summit in Tripoli, Libya, on Nov. 29 and 30.

Until now, only a few limited deals - so-called Economic Partnership Agreements - have been made between the EU and select ACP nations.

While the EU and the ACP group of nations have had a common free-trade agreement since 2002, so far, that agreement has done little for Africa, according to NGOs like Oxfam, Misereor and the German church development group, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst. And according to these groups, the blame lies entirely with Europe.

Skepticism, hope ahead of meeting

Now, the African nations are demanding that 80 percent of all tariffs on imported goods be abolished. At the same time, they want the export of raw materials to be restricted. For its part, the European Union is pressing for free-trade for services. African countries would have little hope of being able to export services themselves, since the service industry is far less expansive there.

oxfam logo

Oxfam is one of the groups calling for change

After years of unsuccessful negotiations, Oxfam trade policy advisor David Hachfeld said he is sceptical about the chances that next week’s summit will bring the two continents onto the same page. And he is worried that individual countries may decide to take unilateral action.

"If most of the countries in a particular region want to refuse services, but one or two countries in that region want the services, then the European Union is prepared to keep working with those one or two countries," Hachfield said. "That would be devastating in my opinion, and I hope the African countries won’t let themselves be divided like that."

But Offah Obale, a Cameroonian consultant for the African Union, is more optimistic. He says the fact that 80 heads of state are expected to attend the Tripoli summit make it a unique opportunity to resolve the trade dispute between the EU and Africa at the highest political level.

Warning on increased poverty

"I think it will be hypocritical for African and European leaders to continue going to New York and talk about achieving millenium goals by 2015 and not talk about the major instrument," Obale said. "So my major expectation in the area of trade is that the summit at the end of this month will come out with a consensus on the way forward with respect to economic partnership agreements."

Senegalese Ndiaga Mboub, who works with the World Health Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland, added that if nothing changes, trade policy between Africa and the EU will only serve to increase poverty across Africa.

More far-reaching change in African industry is needed to overcome what he described as a new kind of colonialism.

"The problem is that Africa can't develop on its own, in that it exports raw materials and agricultural products to Europe," he said. "Not one single country is going to make any progress if it doesn’t develop its own industry. It's still the case that Africa sends raw materials off to European factories where they're processed further, for example in the oil industry."

Oxfam's Hachfeld said that he increasingly questions the EU's Africa strategy because other countries are already on the way to outpacing the EU in terms of striking trade deals.

"Why should African countries be so reliant on the European Union when they can see that the growth rates in trade with India, China, and Brazil are three times as high as they are with the EU?" he asks.

African farmers with cattle in a field

Some farmers in Africa have suffered under increased EU exports

Poultry and dairy industries suffer

African agriculture has suffered under the current trade imbalances. For example, poultry breeding and processing in Ghana has ground almost to a halt, because the EU has increased its exports to the country from almost 5,000 tons in 1998 to 90,000 tons in 2009. Another example is dairy exports to Africa, which rose by over 40 percent between 2005 and 2008.

These jumps in EU exports might be good news for European farmers. But German development groups have said they are coming at the expense of African farmers, and they want the situation to change.

Author: Marcel Furstenau/Sophie Tarr (jen)
Editor: Greg Wiser

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