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Europe

EU to Open Trade Talks with Africa

The EU will launch trade talks with 16 eastern and southern African countries in Mauritius this weekend. The aim is to allow freer access to EU markets and to spur regional trade accords among African nations.

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The EU would like to see African trade benefit from economic partnerships within the continent.

The European Union kicks off a second round of trade talks with 16 eastern and southern African countries on Saturday.

The talks, which will gradually involve all members of the 79-nation Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), are intended to seal Economic and Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the African nations. The negotiations follow a trade round already launched with nations in west and central Africa in October.

EPAs are based on the Cotonou agreement signed in Benin in 2000 giving the 79 members of the ACP group a special trade status within the EU. While the EU says that under the agreement it will be prepared to further open its markets to ACP products and loosen other trade barriers, ACP states have indicated they will implement trade-friendly policies.

African development a priority

Pascal Lamy

EU Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy gestures while answering reporters' questions in the press conference at a hotel in Tokyo, Friday, Feb. 16, 2001. Lamy arrived in Tokyo Thursday from Seoul for a four-day visit to meet Japanese leaders. Lamy met earlier today with Japan's Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma to reaffirm EU/Japan globarization talks to be materialized. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

"The EPA negotiations with Eastern and Southern Africa will follow a hands-on approach: development is the objective, trade one of the tools," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy (photo) said on the eve of the trip.

EU Development Commissioner Poul Nielson also welcomed what he called the African nations’ "important" decision to kickstart EPA negotiations with the 15-nation EU bloc. "Deepening regional integration, breaking down barriers to neighbors and creating larger markets are crucial steps if these countries are to stimulate their necessary investments and productivity improvements that will drive their development," he said.

The 16 countries slated to hold talks with the EU over the weekend are Burundi, Comores, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The countries, with a total population of 280 million, are all members of the ACP, which includes some of the world's poorest nations. They form part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

The EU Commission has underlined that the EU has already earmarked more than €700 million ($880.6 million) for supporting trade-related activities and regional integration in the eastern and southern African countries.

Helping Africa help itself

EU negotiators are emphasizing that in addition to allowing goods from developing countries almost free access to European markets, it is vital to strengthen regional integration among individual African countries. In other words, the EU would like to help African nations help themselves.

Martin Dihm of the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade said in a press conference on Thursday it was urgent that regional trade partnerships were formed before trade cooperations between Africa and the EU could be hammered out.

"The most important topic is regional cooperation. That’s our key phrase for further development perspectives," he said. "We believe that regional integration can reinforce the credibility of structures and good governance and thus become attractive for investors," Dihm added. "And that’s what counts if you want to achieve development and economic growth."

Talks hoped to boost stalled WTO debate

The regional trade accords among the African nations are expected to be signed and sealed by 2008. Negotiators are hoping that by then an African free trade zone between the regions will also have been established. Today trade between African states is burdened by heavy tariffs, which tend to be much higher than those involved in trade with the rest of the world.

The EU also hopes that the EPAs will get the Doha Development Round (launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar) back on track. The Doha round was meant to lower commercial barriers around the world from agriculture to the service industry. Talks in Cancun, Mexico, broke down last September mainly over farm subsidies in rich countries and on new issues such as trade and competition policy and transparency in government procurement that the EU wanted to include in the negotiations.

"EPAs are highly complimentary and supportive of the Doha Development Round as they involve the same issues for the same countries," Dihm said. "By strengthening their capacity within the EPAs, developing countries can also strengthen their capacity in Geneva and the World Trade Organization," he added. "The first step of getting trade back on track is the development between the north-north relationships and south-south. The second step is integration between them and us."

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy stressed that the success of the negotiations would benefit both sides. "If at the end of these negotiations eastern and southern Africa stands as a stronger region, able to define its common interest and improve jointly the environment for business and investors, we will all have won," he said.

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