FES Conference on EU-Africa relations: summary of the debate

A panel discussion on Africa-EU relations was organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on the 8th July 2009. This summary was written by Dolly Afun-Ogidan, Research Intern at ECDPM and co-editor of the http://www.europafrica.net website.

The first session of the discussion dealt with “The Economic Partnership Agreements: Four Scenarios of West Africa’s Future” presented by El Hadji Diouf.

Scenario I: A full liberalization agreement on all trade in goods, services, intellectual property, etc, as proposed by the EU. This comprises 80% liberalization by West Africa and 100% by the EU. The EU finances a development programme to facilitate its implementation. Yet the implications of this would mean an influx of European products at cheaper prices, crowding out local production and preventing growth of local industries.

Scenario II: A partial liberalization agreement of 60% over a period of 25 years for West Africa and comprising of only trade in goods. This scenario provides greater flexibility for West Africa’s trade policy and facilitates regional integration.

Scenario III: Status Quo involving one region, three agreements and no integration. The present situation has West Africa divided into two countries with an interim EPA, one with the GSP and the others, all LDCs, with the EBA regime. This is disastrous for regional integration efforts, as each country defines its own trade policy.

Scenario IV: A step backwards, where there is no agreement whatsoever. Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire renounce their initialed and signed agreements. LDCs continue under the EBA regime, while non-LDCs lose fiscal income and remain subject to the GSP system. Although, regional integration process would be rescued, this will be difficult to accomplish.

Opinions on the scenarios presented above varied. Claude Maerten, Head of Unit “Economic Partnership Agreements 1” for the EC’s DG Trade stressed that Scenario I was the best way forward for all parties involved, especially as the EPAs were an instrument for achieving development. ECOWAS representative, Yaya Sow, insisted that the second scenario will give West Africa a chance to open up at their own pace. He suggested a compromise of 70% liberalization form the West African side. He also pointed out the relevance of the consequences of liberalization using exchange rates rather than tariffs. International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) representative Claire Couteille noted that 80% liberalization implies loss of protection of agricultural and industrial sectors, leading to food security issues, extensive fiscal revenue loss, and insisted that the impacts on liberalization of services should be mitigated.

The second session on “The African Union: Prospects for further Integration and Relations to the EU” highlighted the importance of integration to Africa’s development. AUC representative, René Kouassi pointed out that difficulty in harmonizing activities of the African RECs and lack of finance to implement programs has hindered Africa’s integration progress. Intra alia, there is a general impression that the African Union Commission is not officially included in the EPA negotiations. That causes general frustration and confusion. Thus, the RECs are naturally moving without the AU and do not necessarily support the continental approach of the JAES process. According to the Commissioner for Economic Affairs, JAES is a major element needed which provides added value to the RECs. He emphasized that EU-Africa relations share a long history and that the JAES has certainly improved dialogue between the two continents. After an EU Strategy for Africa, the current JAES represent a joint effort that includes long-term assistance and respects and incorporates existing African initiatives. Dr. Kouassi underlined that the JAES was not imposed on Africa yet it was a collective initiative. Yet he notes that progress on implementation of the JAES has been slow, effective participation not sufficient and there is a lack of unified approach by the EU for financing the strategy in order to address Africa’s development. Thus, the next steps should be to harmonize EU development aid, in particular the financial instruments to reflect the idea of ‘treating Africa as one’.

ECDPM’s Andrew Sheriff noted that the added value of the JAES is its “joint” approach in which Africa is an equal player. Quality of dialogue, participation of actors, and the respect of JAES’s fundamental principles such as “treating Africa as one”, “a partnership of equals”, and the “harmonization of existing policy frameworks”, will be more effective in ensuring the JAES success than emphasizing ‘functional deliverables’ only.

ECOWAS representative, Yaya Sow, underlined the necessity to bring the National Indicative Programmes (NIPs) in line with the JAES implementation progress so that it is taken into account nationally and regionally.

African Union Ambassador, Mahamet Saleh Annadif pointed out that he was impressed by the consultations that lead towards the Lisbon Declaration. Finally, the European Union has agreed to treat Africa as one entity. However, mixed messages after the Lisbon Summit have confused African leaders such as the creation of the Union of the Mediterranean. He stressed that the JAES should be a genuine dialogue less a writing exercise of reports. It should be about the quality of the dialogue.

Finally, Mr. Kouassi mentioned that the change from African Union Commission to ‘Authority’ gives a political and institutional dimension to the AU, equipping it to address challenges. The Authority shall comprise a chairman, a vice president, nine to twelve secretaries and a coordinator for the common defense. The African Union waits to have a 2/3 majority from the Member States to ratify the idea of the African Union Authority. In conclusion, the AU representatives stressed that a collective approach involving the RECs is needed for African integration and that AU can learn from Europe’s progress towards integration.

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