Trade was high on the agenda at the Fourth EU-Africa Summit, held in Brussels last week. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that the time had come for a “shift from development cooperation to a partnership of equals with trade and investment playing a key role” – a sentiment that was reiterated in the Summit Declaration, which stated: “It is a time for a fundamental shift from aid to trade and investment as agents of growth, jobs and poverty reduction.” However, the strong rhetoric did not result in many concrete deliverables in the 2014-2017 roadmap produced.
One tangible outcome was the agreement from both regional blocks to continue to focus on trying to complete the EPA negotiations ahead of the October 1st deadline. But this commitment suffered, coming as it did in the wake of the breakdown of ECOWAS talks the previous week – a new EU-ECOWAS EPA had been timed to be a key announcement at the summit, but failed to materialise despite a technical agreement being reached in February.
The Declaration states that both regions will “continue working on outstanding Economic Partnership Agreements with the aim to foster intra-African trade, Africa’s regional integration efforts and the planned Continental Free Trade Area.” But while the promise that EPAs should be “development-oriented”, there was no mention of what provisions the EU will make should the deadline be missed. As October 1st looms, this is surely a vital question, given the small likelihood of all African regions completing the negotiation process in time.
The support shown in the Declaration for increased African economic integration and capacity building to take advantage of fair and open trade alongside infrastructure and governance reforms is positive, but the work of creating that free and fair trade was set clearly within the remit of the WTO. There was a full commitment to successfully conclude the Doha Development Agenda and an EU pledge to support implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, but no mention of the removing the barriers that are EU-specific in hindering African countries from greater participation in the global trading system such as rules of origin and agricultural subsidies.
The emphasis given to the role of trade as a development tool at this summit is encouraging, but there is far more active progress that could be achieved through the EU if they are serious about creating an enabling environment so that, in the words of Angela Merkel, “African problems can be solved by Africans themselves.”
Trade was high on the agenda at the Fourth EU-Africa Summit, held in Brussels last week. But while the Summit Declaration states that “It is a time for a fundamental shift from aid to trade and investment as agents of growth, jobs and poverty reduction”, the strong rhetoric did not result in many concrete deliverables in the 2014-2017 roadmap produced.