Building capacity to help Africa trade better

EU, Africa shift focus to trade


EU, Africa shift focus to trade

EU, Africa shift focus to trade
Photo credit: European Union

Trade, security and migration top the agenda at biggest summit ever staged by the EU.

Africa and the European Union have agreed that “it is time for a fundamental shift from aid to trade and investment as agents of growth, jobs and poverty reduction”, a strong declaration intended to reinforce efforts to reframe the two continents’ relationship as a “partnership of equals”.

The statement is just one of 63 points of agreement set out by EU and African leaders at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels, but the two continents’ shift in focus reflects a desire by both sides to move beyond an agenda historically dominated by development aid and a wish to establish a relationship that is more strategic, economically and politically.

The leaders met at a point when Europe’s economy has been in, or emerging from, crisis for six years, while the pace of Africa’s economic growth has eclipsed Asia’s for five years.

Despite the perception that relations between the EU and Africa have been too narrowly based, the leaders stated that “we take particular pride in the breadth and depth of our partnership”. The range of the EU’s and Africa’s co-operation is seen by many European officials as an particular advantage that Europe has over China, the United States and other large economies, including Brazil and India, that are now very active economically in Africa.

The leaders emphasised that policies to promote growth should be “based on agriculture, green growth, industrialisation and value addition, the development of economic infrastructure and the service sector”. The stress laid on the importance of “transformation and value-addition of raw materials at the source as a catalyst for industrial development” is an implicit rejection of a model that China is commonly perceived of pursuing in Africa – of exploiting Africa’s natural resources without helping development of the local economy – but similar criticisms are routinely levelled at Western mining and energy companies. The declaration says that the two sides should engage in a “dialogue” about “responsible mineral sourcing”.

Africa’s economic potential was a common theme touched on at the summit, including by countries – such as Slovakia – with few historical or economic ties to Africa. Slovakia was one of just six EU countries not represented by a head of state or government, but its foreign minister, Miroslav Lajčák, talked of the summit of the “huge opportunities” offered by Africa.

The summit was the biggest top-level event ever staged by the EU. Of the two EU’s and Africa’s 82 states, 80 were represented, with 61 presidents or prime ministers attending.


The two continents did not announce major initiatives. The intention, rather, was to cement a political consensus that reflected African calls for the relationship to be put on a new footing, with Africa in the lead. Nonetheless, the declaration, and an accompanying 75-point ‘roadmap’, indicates a large number of areas in which the EU and Africa will place extra emphasis.

Policymakers had originally hoped even more political guidance would emerge. They had been working in a very hectic run-up to the summit on specific declarations on climate change, agriculture, migration, the international agenda on development and (at one point) on food security. However, only one specific additional declaration was made, on migration, an issue that is one of the principal EU-African relations for many European states.

The declaration says the two continents will strengthen efforts to limit illegal migration, to create more routes for managed migration, and also made a promise to ensure that migrants and their families enjoy more of the fruits of their work, by committing themselves to “stepping up efforts to significantly reduce the costs of remittances”.

The summit did not revise the joint Africa-European strategy adopted in 2007 and reaffirmed at the last summit, in 2010. Policymakers had felt, instead, that the focus should be on making collaboration more effective, a feeling made explicit on occasion in the summit’s documents. “Some of the technical expert structures have not always been efficient,” the roadmap noted.


One area where European officials believe the two continents are now co-operating well is in security, but the summit indicated that the de facto division of labour – with Europe paying much of the bill for African Union military missions – will be adjusted, with Africa contributing more funding than in the past. “We agreed to sustain the level of resources available to [the EU’s African Peace Facility, used for funding African military missions] and to seek ways of redefining targets, while complementing it with African resources,” the declaration states.

The weaknesses of the EU’s own military contributions in Africa emerged in discussions about the Central African Republic, where France and the African Union have had peacekeepers in place since late last year. The EU gave its preliminary go-ahead for a military mission in January, but failure by EU states to provide logistical support meant that the mission was only formally launched on 1 April – on the eve of the summit and amid an upsurge in violence that had prompted many thousands to flee the capital, Bangui, despite the presence there of international peacekeepers. The crisis resulted in 25 states holding a mini-summit devoted to the Central African Republic in the hours before the main summit began yesterday afternoon.

The debate about the crisis in central Africa was, however, accompanied by a potentially announcement by France’s President François Hollande and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that Germany and France were now “are seeking to be a motor” for security and development in Africa. Germany was on “a new path”, Merkel said. France has historically been the European state most willing to use its troops in Africa, while Germany has been reluctant to go beyond providing funds and technical or logistical support.

The UK – a greatest European power in Africa during the colonial period and France’s closest military ally in Europe – was represented only by its foreign minister.


EU officials and diplomats repeatedly emphasise the significance of security as a precondition to achieving the EU’s objectives of helping Africa’s development, boosting trade and managing the flow of migrants. The UN estimates that by 2050 one in three births will be in Africa. While population growth has contributed to the expansion of Africa’s economy, it has also focused European policymakers’ minds on the challenge of how to ensure that enough jobs are created for young Africans in Africa, encouraging the shift in focus from development aid to trade, investment and industrialisation.

The economic potential for Africa it can harness its population growth and continue to develop its social services – specifically, health care – was brought to the fore by the president of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza. Addressing a side-event whose audience included the UN secretary-general and a range of African presidents, Guebuza said that “in this century, we will be reaping the demographic dividend but also the disease-free dividend”. He was referring primarily to malaria.

The president of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, identified health as an issue that must be made central to the EU’s and Africa’s discussions with the United Nations about the long-term development agenda. “Health encompasses every aspect of development,” she said. “Health can be a fulcrum around which we can look at development.”


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