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New trade era for Africa, writes UJ’s Dr David Monyae

Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “New trade era for Africa” published on the IOL News, 04 March 2020.

As the dust settled from the three torturous years of negotiation with Britain over the terms of Brexit severance, a large EU delegation jetted into Addis Ababa last week.

It was led by the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen eagerly wanting to hit the ground running.

The expectations of the EU Commission were simply jetting into Addis Ababa with its newly reconfigured EU-Africa Strategy and keeping with the long-held hegemonic traditions; Africans would just ink the document without much serious negotiations and internal consultations.

To the disappointment of the EU Commission delegation and most pro-EU experts, the AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki did not sign the Strategy and instead raised numerous uncomfortable issues.

It is important to highlight interesting aspects and the timing of this specific trip.

First and foremost, Africa has indeed emerged as a global actor after what Eduardo Soteras defined as “overcoming a major hurdle to pan-African progress” with the signing and coming into effect of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) on July 1 this year.

Second, the Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000 between the EU and 79-country bloc of African, Caribbean, and Pacific states expired on February 29. The EU and Africa ought to speedily come up with a new trade agreement.

Third, Africa, unlike the year 2000, has attracted myriad important new strategic partners ranging from the US, China, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and Gulf states.

Although the EU remains a critical partner for Africa, the continent requires more time to reconsider the new terms of trade agreements with all partners, especially the Cotonou Agreement. Obviously, with the AfCFTA in place and its secretariat being set up in Accra, Africa is no longer the same as in the era of the OAU.

The continent has to assert its newly found leverage as it renegotiates old trade agreements. Africa has 1.2billion people, and a mainly youthful market with an economy at more than $2.5trillion.

The Cotonou Agreement should therefore be renegotiated with these factors in mind. The days of unfair trade, for instance in agriculture wherein the EU continues protecting its farmers by subsidising them are over. In the joint press conference between the AU’s Commission chairperson Faki and the European Commission’s Von der Leyen many other differences emerged.

The EU president specifically captured these differences when she said: “Certainly, we have some differences: international criminal justice, sexual orientation and identity, death penalty, centrality of the AU in certain crises

“These differences are normal, given our cultural, sociological and even spiritual diversity”.

It was reported that some senior EU officials were offended by Faki’s frankness in assessing glaring gaps in AU-EU relations. These officials failed to understand why the AU Commission would raise differences with the EU without appreciating the EU’s contribution to Africa’s projects that amounted to 274million (R4.73billion) last year. The entire notion of shared values between the AU and EU is flawed. The EU selectively nit-picks these values while maximising its interest.

Africa should relook at its relations with the EU to ensure it is balanced. More planning and consultation within Africa is required to ensure the EU Strategy benefits both parties. Due to the incremental progress made on the continental integration shown by the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area, Africa ought to renegotiate all trade agreements with other partners. It is no longer business as usual. The lesson for Africa is that when it speaks with one voice it achieves most of its political, economic and social goals.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg

dr david monyae
Dr David Monyae
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