Africa’s external relations
As Africa confronts the challenges of the evolving international trade landscape and an increasingly globalised world economy, the nature of its trading relationships has been undergoing significant shifts in recent years.
While trade with its traditional trading partners, particularly the European Union and the United States, has been declining, trade ties with emerging economies and global players, notably the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), has been steadily increasing.
The United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit), and multilateral developments in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), also have important implications for African countries.
Below are details of Africa’s external trade relations.
Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union
The European Union (EU) is currently negotiating a series of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the 79 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region with the aim of promoting ACP-EU trade and ultimately contributing, through trade and investment, to sustainable development and poverty reduction. They are based on the principle of asymmetrical market opening, meaning that they provide a better access to the EU market for ACP partners. EPAs replace the previous market access regime of unilateral preferences for ACP countries. To date, negotiations have been concluded with SADC, the EAC, Central Africa (Cameroon), several East and Southern African countries, and the West Africa EPA group.
Overview of the EU Economic Partnership Agreements: State of Play - July 2021
SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement
On 10 June 2016, the European Union (EU) and six countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA Group – comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS), South Africa and Mozambique – signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the first of its kind between the EU and an African region pursuing the objective of economic integration. The signature took place in Kasane, Botswana. Following signature, the agreement was submitted for approval to the European Parliament, and for ratification in the Southern African countries and in the 28 EU Member States according to national ratification procedures.
On 10 October 2016, the SADC EPA entered into provisional application between the EU and Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Mozambique ratified the agreement on 28 April 2017, becoming the last piece of the SADC-EPA jigsaw to fall into place. Following provisional application, the Parties are addressing implementation issues including the twin questions of EPA monitoring and civil-society involvement and putting in place the institutional framework for the Agreement.
SADC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (Consolidated text and Annexes), September 2016 (PDF, 12.53 MB)
- EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement, signed 10 June 2016 (PDF, 5.68 MB)
The EU had earlier concluded negotiations for an EPA with Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland on 15 July 2014, ending 10 years of negotiations. Although an Agreement was reached to replace the interim EPA signed by the EU and Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland in June 2009, it was never ratified.
The other six members of the SADC regional economic bloc – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are negotiating EPAs with the EU as part of other regional groups, namely Central Africa or Eastern and Southern Africa. Angola is an observer.
Visit the SADC-EU Economic Partnership Aagreement Resources page for more.
EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement
On 16 October 2014, the Eastern African Community Partner States (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) finalised the negotiations for a region-to-region Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU. The agreement covers trade in goods and development cooperation. It also contains an extensive chapter on fisheries – aiming mainly to reinforce cooperation on the sustainable use of resources – and foresees further negotiations on services and trade-related rules in the future.
The texts agreed by the chief negotiators have been initialled and checked by EU and EAC lawyers. This “legal scrubbing” process was completed on 11 September 2015. The clean text has now been sent to translation in order to pave the way to the signature and ratification of the EPA by October 2016. The agreement will enter into force once ratification is completed.
On 20 June 2016, the European Council authorised, on behalf of the EU, the signature and provisional application of the EPA between the EU and the five EAC member states. It is anticipated that discussions on the ratification of the EPA will be concluded by EAC states in February 2017.
- EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (Consolidated text), October 2015 (PDF, 5.74 MB)
The member states of the East African Community and the European Commission initialled the text of the Agreement Establishing a Framework for an Economic Partnership Agreement jointly on 27 November 2007. The EAC member states met with the EC in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 7-9 June 2010. Both parties were unable to agree on the contentious issues (see Joint Senior Officials Conclusions). This was followed with a Joint Statement issued by the EAC Ministers responsible for Trade and the Commissioner for Trade in the European Commission.
- Agreement Establishing a Framework for an EPA between the EAC states and the EC and its Member States (PDF, 379 KB)
- Protocol on the Rules of Origin (PDF, 886 KB)
- Joint Senior Officials Conclusions (PDF, 93 KB)
- Joint EAC-EC Communiqué on the Framework for an Economic Partnership Agreement and Negotiations for the Comprehensive EPA (PDF, 27 KB)
Civil Society Organizations working on trade, fiscal and trade-related issues in East Africa have been actively following the EPA negotiations and have offered several statements expressing their views and recommendations on the negotiations:
- The inherent dangers for the EAC signing the EAC-EU EPA: Some proposals on the way forward - SEATINI-Uganda, 23 January 2017 (PDF, 239 KB)
- Civil Society Statement on the current state of play of the EPAs after the European Commission’s latest ultimatum - Arusha, 7 September 2016 (PDF, 209 KB)
- The inherent dangers for the EAC signing the EAC-EU EPA - SEATINI-Uganda, August 2016 (PDF, 511 KB)
Civil society views on the EAC-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) - SEATINI-Uganda, August 2016 (PDF, 652 KB)
ESA-EU Interim Economic Partnership Agreement
The EU is currently negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement with Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles as part of the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) EPA group. In August 2009, Madagascar, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and Zimbabwe signed an interim EPA with the EU, covering trade in goods. The Agreement includes the elimination of duties and quotas for imports from these countries to the EU as well as a gradual liberalisation of EU exports. It also covers rules of origin, fisheries, trade defense, development cooperation provisions, and mechanisms for settling disputes. The Agreement for the four countries has provisionally applied since 14 May 2012. Comoros signed the agreement in July 2017. It ratified and started applying it in February 2019.
The five countries already applying the agreement have declared their readiness to move beyond trade in goods, towards a more comprehensive agreement. Negotiations to deepen the EPA launched on 2 October 2019. The interim EPA also includes co-operation on technical barriers to trade, and standards on animal and plant health.
Interim Agreement establishing a framework for an EPA between the ESA states and the European Community, April 2012
West Africa-EU Economic Partnership Agreement
After several rounds of negotiations spanned over more than 10 years, the negotiations for the West Africa-EU EPA were formally concluded on 6 February 2014 in Brussels. The Agreement was initialled on 30 June 2014 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and was fully endorsed by the ECOWAS Summit in Accra on 10 July 2014. Sixteen (16) west African states, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) have initialled the Agreement.
Following the endorsement of the negotiated deal by both parties to the Agreement, it was presented for signature and will subsequently be submitted to the European Parliament for consent and to national Parliaments of signatory states for ratification. The signature process is currently ongoing.
Pending the adoption of the regional EPA with West Africa, stepping stone Economic Partnership Agreements with Ivory Coast and Ghana entered into provisional application on 3 September 2016 and 15 December 2016, respectively.
West Africa-EU Economic Partnership Agreement - October 2015 (PDF, 407 KB)
- Annexes A and B: Rules of origin (PDF, 1.49 MB)
- Annex C Part I: Customs duties on EU exports (PDF, 5.35 MB)
- Annex C Part II: Customs duties on EU exports (PDF, 5.57 MB)
Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa
The European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy proposed the basis for a new strategy with Africa on 9 March 2020. The communication sets out proposals to intensify cooperation through partnerships in five key areas: green transition; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; and migration and mobility. Based on this document, Europe will engage discussions with African partners towards a new joint strategy to be endorsed at the European Union – African Union Summit in October 2020.
- Joint Communication: Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa - European Commission, March 2020
- Factsheet: Towards a comprehensive strategy with Africa
As Europe’s closest neighbour, the African continent not only shares a rich history with EU countries, but also common values and interests. Through the Africa-EU partnership, we work, engage in political and policy dialogues, and define our cooperative relationship with Africa. The partnership was established in 2000 at the first African Union (AU)-EU Summit in Cairo. It is guided by the Joint Africa-EU strategy (JAES), adopted at the 2nd AU-EU Summit in Lisbon in 2007. At continental level, institutions, policies and initiatives have been established in areas that are of increasing importance for Africa’s development, as well as being of interest to the EU. African and European counterparts engage in formal dialogues through (i) AU-EU Summits between heads of states and governments; (ii) ministerial meetings; and (iii) European Commission to AU Commission meetings.
During the 5th AU-EU Summit held in 2017, a joint declaration ‘Investing in youth for accelerated inclusive growth and sustainable development’ emerged highlighting the intricate ways in which Africa and the EU are tied together politically and economically. Policy priority areas were also set out with a focus on youth, defining 4 joint priority areas for the following years:
- investing in people through education, science, technology and skills development
- strengthening resilience, peace, security and governance
- mobilising investments for African structural and sustainable transformation
migration and mobility
In 2018, a new Africa-Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs was announced, deepening trade and economic relations, and proposing:
- a boost in strategic investment and job creation
- investment in education and skills
- strengthening the business environment and investment climate
tapping the full potential of economic integration and trade
The following factsheets relevant for Africa-EU cooperation have been prepared by the European Commission:
- Factsheet: EU-AU Commission to Commission - February 2020
- EU Support to the African Continental Free Trade Area: Infographic - May 2019
- Africa-Europe Alliance Factsheet: Towards a sustainable African agri-food sector - March 2019
- The European Union and African Union: Key Partners Factsheet - January 2019
- EU-South Africa :Strategic Partners Factsheet - November 2018
- State of the Union 2018 Factsheet: Strengthening the EU’s partnership with Africa
The UK’s exit from the EU – Brexit
At 23:00 GMT on Friday 31 January, 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) officially withdrew as a member of the European Union (EU). The Brexit withdrawal saga came to an end, but not the process of re-establishing national trade governance in the UK and concluding a new trade agreement with the EU, the UK’s most important trading partner. The Withdrawal Agreement provides for a transitional period until 31 December 2020 to hammer out this arrangement. Thereafter, the UK can conclude trade agreements with third parties such as the US and China. It will also return to the WTO as a member in its own right.
A political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the EU and the UK was published on 12 November 2019, along with the official text of the Withdrawal Agreement.
- Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community (Official text) - 12 November 2019
- Political declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom (Official text)
Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community - 18 October 2019
The UK voted to leave the European Union in the 23 June 2016 EU Referendum. Article 50 of the Treaty establishing the European Union (TEU) was triggered by the government on 29 March 2017, which began the formal process for the UK to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. The Withdrawal Agreement establishes the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. It ensures that the withdrawal will happen in an orderly manner, and offers legal certainty once the Treaties and EU law will cease to apply to the UK.
- Article 50 TEU Withdrawal of a Member State from the EU European Parliament February 2016
- Technical Update to the Withdrawal Agreement including Article 50 extension - 11 April 2019
- Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the UK and Northern Ireland from the EU, 14 November 2018
Joint report from the EU and UK negotiators on the state of play of the negotiations under article 50 TEU, 14 November 2018
Timeline of events
- Legislating for the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU White Paper, July 2018
- The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union – White Paper, July 2018
Future trade relations between the EU and the UK: options after Brexit, March 2018
On 8 December 2017, high-level negotiators from the UK and Northern Ireland reached an with the EU to keep the Brexit negotiations on track. The EU has insisted that negotiations about future UK-EU trade could only start once an agreement about the Irish border, the payment of the UK’s divorce bill, and the position of EU citizens in the UK has been reached. This was achieved with the publication of Joint Report on Progress during Phase 1 of Negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom’s orderly Withdrawal from the European Union.
- Joint report on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, 8 December 2017
- State of progress of the negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the TEU: Communication from the EC, 8 December 2017
- European Council Article 50 TEU Guidelines for Brexit negotiations, December 2017
- Preparing for our future UK trade policy – White Paper, October 2017
- Customs Bill: Legislating for the UK’s future customs VAT and excise regimes – White Paper, October 2017
- Future customs arrangements: A future partnership paper, August 2017
- UK Trade Options Beyond 2019: First Report of Session 2016-17 – House of Commons International Trade Committee
- European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, July 2017
- Theresa May’s Letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50 of the TEU, 29 March 2017
- Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union – White Paper, March 2017
- The United Kingdom’s exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union – White Paper, February 2017
Brexit: Speech by Prime Minister Theresa May at Lancaster House, 17 January 2017
Economic Partnership Agreements
An Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) EPA Group provisionally entered into force on 10 October 2016. The UK is part of the EU and trades with the SADC EPA States under the SADC-EU EPA. On completion of UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the UK will not be part of the EPA. To avoid trade disruption, SACU, Mozambique and the UK have decided to roll-over the EPA into a standalone trade agreement. The consolidated text has been drafted with most provisions agreed. Legal scrubbing has also been undertaken on the areas of the legal text that have been agreed.
Continuing the UK’s trade relationship with the SACU member states and Mozambique: Parliamentary report - November 2019
Explanatory Memorandum on the EPA between SACU and Mozambique and the UK - November 2019
- Economic Partnership Agreement between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 1 Part 1
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 1 Part 2
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 2 Part 1
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 2 Part 2
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 3 Part 1
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 3 Part 2
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 4 Part 1
- EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 4 Part 2
EPA between SACU and Mozambique, and the UK: Volume 4 Part 3
The United Kingdom has committed to continue its current trade arrangements with the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) States if it leaves the European Union without a deal on 29 March 2019, or at the end of an implementation period. The ESA-UK Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) will provide immediate duty-free quota-free access to goods from ESA States into the UK in exchange for more gradual tariff liberalisation from the ESA States.
- Continuing the UK’s trade relationship with the Eastern and Southern African region Parliamentary report - February 2019
- Explanatory Memorandum on the Agreement establishing an EPA between the ESA States and the UK - February 2019
Agreement establishing an EPA between the ESA States and the UK - 31 January 2019