The Africa-EU Partnership – a new model for development aid?

The Los Angeles Chronicle The 2009 publication of Dambisa Moyo‘s provocative and critically acclaimed book Dead Aid stoked an ongoing furious debate about foreign aid and the extent to which it helps or harms developing countries.

It is within this general climate of evolving discussions on aid that the European Union launched its Joint Africa-EU Strategic Partnership with the African Union in 2007 in order to “move beyond the traditional donor-recipient relationship” and work together with African nations as equals to promote more sustainable and long-term development with a central focus on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

The 3rd Africa-EU Summit opened in Tripoli last week with a speech by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi urging European heads of state to strike fairer trade policies with African countries that are based on “mutual interest not exploitation”. Gaddafi’s words echo concerns by African leaders that calls from the EU for developing countries to liberalise their economies and open their markets to European goods and services will damage emerging local industries and are too one-sided.

Despite protestations that the Africa-EU Partnership is asking for too much of African nations and not offering enough in return where trade is concerned, EU officials maintain that the initiative is aimed at expanding the scope of traditional development aid policy and tackling the root causes of poverty, not just its symptoms.

Last month, the European Commission (EC) launched a Green Paper outlining proposals of how it aims to improve the impact of its development policy. The Green Paper notes that a mere one per cent increase in developing countries’ gross national income can be more effective than simply increasing aid to those countries and an impartial trade policy can be equally beneficial. Calls have already been mounting from NGOs such as CIDSE for the EU to reform its Common Agricultural Policy in order to give goods produced in the developing world fairer and more competitive access to global markets and to allow local African industries to thrive.

Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, the EC’s acting head of forward looking studies and policy coherence, said: “If we continue subsidising our agricultural products, we undermine the ability of smaller farmers to develop their own capacity to feed their populations. It’s very important that what we do on the policy front doesn’t undermine the objectives of development.”

The EC said it plans to focus on attracting foreign direct investment to Africa, maintain food security and improve access to affordable credit for small businesses, as well as source development funding in more innovative ways.

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// Speaking in Brussels, Irish MEP Gay Mitchell, who is on the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, said the Africa-EU Partnership represents the first time targets have been set for how developing countries must spend aid money (20 per cent on basic education and health respectively). Monitoring procedures have also been devised to ensure that these targets are being met.

Furthermore, EU officials said they want to ensure that multinational corporations pay the correct tax in developing countries and have less access to tax havens so revenues can trickle down to local communities.

Jose Correia-Nunes, the EC’s head of economic governance and budget support, said however, that the Commission will maintain – at just under half – the proportion of aid given to developing countries as budget support – arguably the type of aid that is most prone to corruption due to the fact that it is given directly to the treasuries of developing countries, where it is easy to siphon off undetected. Mr Correia-Nunes acknowledged that that there are problems with budget support that need to be addressed and maintained that the EC will continue to re-think its financing strategy to maximise effectiveness and will only give aid to countries that demonstrate strong governance and rule of law. Moreover, a clause (Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement) has been introduced to suspend aid to countries that flout democratic and human rights principles.

EU officials have consistently spoken of how the EU’s partnership with Africa is more “multi-faceted” than China’s involvement, which they describe as untenable in the long term. This has inevitably led to criticisms that the EU’s partnership with Africa is designed to counteract China’s growing economic influence on the continent and capitalise on Africa’s economic growth, which is forecast to reach 10% in countries such as Nigeria.

The Africa-EU Summit concluded with the signing of the Tripoli Declaration, which pledges to increase Africa’s influence in world bodies such as the G20 and the UN, and commits heads of state to implementing an action plan over the next two years focusing on a range of issues including sustainable energy, infrastructure, good governance, conflict prevention and food security.

However, attempts at agreeing a trade deal have been elusive, with African leaders saying the EU is trying to coax them into opening their borders without giving enough in return. African leaders are pushing for more equitable tariff cuts for all African countries and duty-free access to markets in the EU on a more long-term basis. African leaders have warned that they may discontinue trade negotiations if a mutually beneficial deal is not reached and seek partnerships elsewhere with emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India.

The onus is now on the EU to make good on its ambitious promises and offer a fairer trade deal to allow African countries to take proactive steps to foster long-term growth, eliminate poverty and meet the Millennium Development Goals in the spirit of the new “equal joint partnership”.

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