The future of EU, Africa trade ties

A ship offloading cargo within the port of Mombasa in this picture taken on October 27, 2020. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NMG

Regarding trade, Africa and the European Union have come a long way. And since the EU is the largest trading partner in Africa, the relationship is like a marriage where both parties can work together and hold each other accountable for commitments and results. Moreover, better relationships could enhance the sustainable exploitation of Africa's massive resource potential.

In addition, the growing youthful population aligns with Africa's industrialisation needs and interests to sustainably become a global industrial destination.

Geopolitics and the fact that by 2070, young Africans will outnumber young EU citizens by 12 to 1, we can lean on each other’s shoulders by trading technology with demographic dividend.

With 22 million young people entering the African job market every year, the potential for economic transformation is enormous.

Therefore, trade relations, which started in 1975 under the aegis of the European Economic Community (EEC), and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries flourish in the interest of the EU and Africa.

The relationship mainly targeted the former British, Dutch, Belgian, and French colonies. The cooperation partnership, Georgetown Agreement, became the primary charter that gave rise to the First Lome Convention.

The first Lome Convention allowed for non-reciprocal duty-free quota-free entry into the EEC of most ACP agricultural and mineral exports.

Subsequently, the framework of the trade relation was renegotiated and renewed four times under Lome 2 (1981, 3 (1985), 4 (1989) and Cotonou Agreement (2000) that expired in 2020.

The accord, however, was extended to 2021. Objectives of these conventions have changed from aid and access to the market of primary goods to investment and economic development cooperation.

The partnership consists of 79 Member States, all of which have ratified the Cotonou Agreement, commonly known as the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement with the European Union, except for Cuba.

Of these member states, 48 are Sub-Saharan African nations, 16 are Caribbean nations, and 15 are Pacific Island nations.

In addition to negotiating and implementing cooperation agreements with the EU, the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) previously ACP has broadened the scope of its activities over time.

Human rights, democracy and governance; human and social development; environment sustainability and climate change, sustainable economic growth and development, and migration and mobility are just a few of the areas in which its members collaborate.

A new Partnership (or "Samoa") Agreement that will replace the Cotonou framework focuses on enhancing the 79 ACP nations' ability to achieve sustainable economic growth and development.

Although the parties concluded negotiations in 2021, the signing ceremony in Apia, Samoa, in June 2022, is put aside until internal processes at the European Union are complete. As a result of the delay, the Cotonou Agreement's transitory provisions stay the same for a year.

The EU proposal also requests its member states to assist in dealing with the pandemic's effects, the conflict in Ukraine, debt distress, illicit financial flows, and tax malpractices by multinationals in African nations.

Additionally, it urges the EU to invest more in developing a robust industrial sector and a resilient, long-term economy to help integrate Africa into the world economy.

However, many Africans are grumbling. Many are inclined towards moving away from practices of exporting raw materials to Europe and then importing back finished goods.

Botswana's Trade Minister Peggy Serame, while addressing the European Commission officials at an event in late-October 2021, said that Africa anticipates that the new alliance will develop new global value chains and boost the exports of finished goods.

She emphasised, "We as Africa need to look at our productive capacity to put measures to be competitive. And there are ways where we can work with the EU, who can also encourage and help us to develop our local productive capacity."

But there are also fears that some aspects of the EU Green Deal could adversely affect Africa's capacity to take advantage of trading opportunities.

For example, some of the provisions are presented by the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) on trade and development negotiated between EU and ACP states.

However, analysts think that Africa may benefit from the European Green Deal, which could see the EU invest billions of dollars in the sustainable transformation of the economies in Africa.

In my view, ACP-EU negotiations should not obfuscate the long relationships that we have had with Europe.

Africa has the opportunity to leverage many of the EU-Africa initiatives such as the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, Regional Strategies and action plans, Regional EPAs, EU-Africa Business Forum, and other official engagements (including summits, interparliamentary meetings, trade experts dialogue, and ministerial meetings) to push for better value chains, technology transfer and human resource development.

The writer is Kenya’s Ambassador to Belgium, Mission to the European Union, Organization of African Caribbean and Pacific States and World Customs Organization. The article is written at a personal level.

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