Stuck in the Doldrums – EU-Africa Trade Deals

Taken from the September edition of europeinfos

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 15.58.43The blueprint for a patchwork of trade agreements between the EU and African nations has not been achieved. This is because existing and proposed arrangements are based on an economic paradigm that fails to deliver authentically sustainable development, argues Henry Longbottom SJ.

Current political negotiations for trade deals between the EU and African countries seem unable to catch the trade winds which blow towards the equator from the northern hemisphere. These gusts of air have been a Godsend to countless merchant sailors in Europe’s trading history. In contrast, the EU’s grand vision for a patchwork of so-called “Economic Partnership Agreements” (EPAs) with developing countries in the Global South appears to be stuck in the doldrums.

Run aground – African Economic Partnership Agreements

Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has so far not been persuaded to sign the West Africa EPA. The most recent failure is the impasse on the proposed EPA with five countries comprising the East African Community. Almost scuppered last year when Tanzania pulled out of negotiations at the eleventh hour, the deal suffered a further blow in May when only two presidents turned up for a rescue summit held in Dar es Salaam.

 EPAs originate from the trade chapter of the Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000, an overarching framework between the EU and a group of countries, mostly former European colonies, within Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, known as the “ACP”. Replacing the 1975 Lomé Convention, the Cotonou Agreement contains lofty provisions aimed at reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and integrating ACP countries into the world economy. Revised every five years, recent amendments to the Cotonou Agreement include measures to combat criminal impunity through the International Criminal Court.

Under the Lomé Convention the EU gave favourable market access to ACP countries and were thus deemed to infringe World Trade Organisation rules. EPAs on the other hand aim to replace arguably paternalistic policies with the principle of reciprocity, requiring both parties to open their markets. Therefore, under EPA arrangements, the EU generally gives immediate duty and quota free access to all products from its partner countries. However, in contrast to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and more economically developed countries, EPAs do not require ACP countries to fully liberalise their markets, and the degree of liberalisation depends on their level of development. Very often, sensitive products, especially certain agricultural commodities, are excluded from EPA provisions.

Given these laudable aims of EPAs, why have they often failed to get off the ground? A major problem is that EPAs are falling short of their two stated aims, namely regional ACP co-operation, and sustainable development.

 Choppy waters – Regional cooperation and sustainable development

With regard to regional cooperation within EPA groups, conflicts exist between EPA provisions and other EU trade arrangements. For example, the very poorest African countries, such as Tanzania, already benefit from duty-free and quota-free access to EU markets under the “Everything But Arms” initiative. Although this trade policy could be withdrawn at any point by the EU, at present its existence means there is little incentive for very poor countries like Tanzania to open up its market through an EPA. On the other hand, relatively economically richer nations like Kenya who do not benefit from Everything But Arms are keen for the security of an EPA to protect against devastating scenarios arising such as when the EU temporarily imposed tariffs on Kenyan cut flowers in 2014.

But an even deeper concern is whether EPAs actually facilitate sustainable development. Many Africans think not. For example, Nigerian campaigners against an EU-west Africa trade deal argue that a reduction in tariffs will make imported machinery cheaper and thus undermine domestic industrial growth. EPA provisions effectively tie the hands of governments, restricting their ability to formulate their own industrial policies and collect revenues from tariffs – an important source of income for nations where other forms of taxation are difficult to raise. Such factors have led to the type of charge levelled by John Magufuli, Tanzania’s president, that EPA provisions resemble a “form of colonialism”.

An underlying worry explaining the reluctance of some African leaders to sign up to EPAs is their suspicion that the biggest winners in such “partnerships” will be European exporters. Their worry is well founded. EPAs may boost exports of commodities like sugar, meat and dairy products from better-off African nations. However, EPAs appear to do little to address the fundamental injustice of Africa being caught in the trap of being primarily an exporter of raw materials. The coffee trade illustrates this. The bulk of Africa’s coffee exports to the EU consists of unrefined green coffee beans. Whilst it is estimated that in 2014, Africa earned about $2.4 billion from the trade, this figure should be contrasted with the value of processed coffee re-exports accrued by Germany which for the same period stood at approximately $3.8 billion.

This is one of many examples of the way that existing economic arrangements are stacked against African nations being able to add value to their exports by processing or manufacturing its raw materials.

The need for greater intra-African trade

Unless and until Africa-EU trade agreements can redress these structural economic obstacles to investment in African economies, they are unlikely to prove effective in achieving sustainable development. In the meantime, African leaders are perhaps justified in placing more hope in the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) approved by the African Union in 2012.

Due to a highly fragmented market, intra-regional trade within Africa is a mere 18%. Bringing together 54 African countries with a population of more than one billion people and combined GDP of more than US $3.4 trillion, the CFTA may prove a surer way of growing local economies and protecting ACP populations against the turbulence of rising and falling tides of the global market.

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Workshop Slides from British Province Pastoral Conference

At the beginning of June, around 120 delegates from Britain’s ten Jesuit parishes met at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick for the Jesuit Pastoral Conference 2017.  The topic for the conference was the three key texts of Pope Francis EvangelIMG_0020ii Gaudiam, Laudato Si and Amoris Laetitia.  Here is a link to the slides for my workshops on “living out Laudato Si”

laudato_si_pastoral_conference_slides_2017-ilovepdf-compressed (1)

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How the world’s newest Jesuit university is promoting sustainable agriculture

Friends at the Mongata agricultural training centre

Friends at the Mongata

DRC’s abundant natural resources are not only to be found underground. Any new visitor to the country cannot fail to appreciate the land’s rich vegetation and fertile farmland. And yet despite its excellent soil and climatic conditions, DRC needs to import much of its food from neighbouring countries. The agricultural sector is perhaps another victim of the mineral resource curse. Intense focus on exploitation of precious commodities – the quest for Eldorado – has contributed to the lack of interest in developing the nation’s agricultural potential.

Having identified a national agricultural skills deficit, Université Loyola du Congo (ULC) has sought to create a centre of excellence for sustainability and food security. Instituted only last year, ULC is the world’s newest Jesuit university. Its Centre de Recherche et de Communication pour le Développement Durable (CERED), which is part of the University’s Faculté des sciences Agronomiques et vétérinaires, has developed a multidisciplinary programme for a diverse range of stakeholders that includes researchers, students, and local communities.

I travelled to ULC’s home in Kimwenza, a southern district of Kinshasa, to meet CERED’s director, Ghislain Tshikendwa Matadi SJ. Pére Ghislain’s vision is to develop a centre bringing together natural and social sciences, which puts the welfare of people at the core of its research and educational formation. As superior of a fledging community of Jesuit scholastics located on-site in ULC campus, his first mission is to conscientize young minds in the Society of Jesus in the mission of the Society including issues relating to sustainability. Having spent an evening with these impressive young Congolese Jesuits, who articulately explained the situation in DRC to me, I realise Pére Ghislain’s influence begins at home!

            Pére Ghislain (left) & Emmanuel

The next day I accompanied Ghislain to CERED’s agroforestry centre and agricultural training centre in Mongata, on the Batéké Plateau, 165km from Kinshasa. The Mongata project began a number of years ago when Pére Ghislain coordinated the planting of trees on 4200 hectares of savanna. The plantation which mostly consists of Acacia trees is now well established and is managed by local people. Mongata also acts as a meteorological station for measuring the impact of climate change, and has a bee-keeping project which draws on the techniques of local traditions and wisdom.

On the journey out of kinshasa, two things struck me powerfully. First was the dire state of the roads. Any driver must skilfully dodge enormous potholes, traverse mud-pits and small ponds, and carefully navigate around a plethora of broken down trucks.  The vast revenues from the mining industry are clearly not finding their way into improvements for DRC’s basic infrastructure. The other thing the road trip made me painfully aware of was the relentless sliver of slum developments alongside the road, inhabited by a population existing in dire poverty and desperate for work.

Entering the peaceful countryside outside Mongata, I wondered why so many flee to the big cities from such a rural idil. Passing through villages however, I realised that the poverty of countryside-dwellers was just as acute as in Kinshasa. I noticed too that there was little evidence of agricultural infrastructure or employment.

When we arrived at Mongata in the early evening, a group of local farmers, which included the village chief, had gathered. They were here, apparently to welcome me, but also for formation session led by Ghislain and CERED staff member Emmanuel Mwanangulu. After a presentation on the idea of establishing a cooperative at Mongata to strengthen the position of the community in purchasing and selling, a lively discussion ensued in a mix of French and Lingala. A meal of maize, chicken and legumes followed, and the local men seemed happy to have the opportunity to chat with each other. Then they went off, mostly by foot, some by motorcycles.

My experience at Mongata called to mind the aspect of Laudato Si which encourages investment in local rural economies. Pére Ghislain’s work embodies the guidance and encouragement of Pope Francis when he says: New forms of cooperation and community organisation can be encouraged in order to defend the interests of small producers and preserve local ecosystems from destruction. Truly, much can be done! (para 180).

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