This Is New Africa: EU-Africa relations after Cotonou
The EU and Africa have a chance to build a rebalanced, modern partnership of equals if they tackle tough issues together.
Before we start talking about Africa, trade, and development, take a few minutes to go and take this quiz. A quick highlight, if you don’t have the time: in the last 20 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has halved.
How did you do? Most people do not do very well. They actually do worse than a computer randomly selecting the answers would (do). That is because us humans come with pre-existing biases, from charity appeals and songs and endless images of people in extreme poverty worldwide. A lot of people assume that extreme poverty is getting worse, when the opposite is happening.
The Africa that the EU is negotiating its future relationship with is not the Africa of Live Aid (which was incredibly patronising even in 1984, and bears no resemblance to the modern-day continent.) It has exceptional growth potential, as well as a young population, and seeks to enact the right policies to ensure that growth leads to jobs for those young people. That’s where the EU-Africa relationship comes in. The renewal of their partnership will provide an opportunity to build a true partnership of equals: one that should aim to consign misconceptions and stereotyping to the past.
Indeed, when the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) – EU Partnership Agreement (more commonly known as ‘Cotonou‘) was signed in 2000, the African Union (AU) was still known as the Organisation of African Unity. Just as Africa’s governance has changed, so has Europe’s, and, naturally, Cotonou has evolved to take into account changes over the last 20 years.
The rise of the AU is something that will specifically have to be considered. The ACP group was developed by its Member States for development and negotiation purposes, primarily with the EU. The pressing question today is whether continuing with centralised negotiations at the ACP-EU level would sideline Africa’s own regional and continental institutions – as well as North African countries, which are in the AU but not the ACP as they fall under the EU Neighbourhood Policy. In turn, centralised negotiations risk reducing regional engagement with and interest in African-EU affairs. The EU must make sure that both the AU and regional groups are treated as important, relevant actors (not just in Africa, but in the Caribbean and Pacific) and that their knowledge and expertise is recognised and valued in the negotiations.
Trade is just one of the areas where African regions are especially relevant. The EU, being a trade power, has used its Generalised Scheme of Preferences classifications as well as trade deals to ensure that the vast majority of African countries benefit from reduced or entirely eliminated tariffs. The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU cover different regional groups within the ACP. However, there was little additional benefit to African countries from negotiating these deals where they already had almost complete access to the Single Market. A side-effect of these regional deals has been that groups of African countries have signed up to different trade terms and commitments. As the AU recently ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), it is attempting to move towards a single African market for goods and services, which is made more complex by those divergent trade practices.
Think back to the quiz you just did. Poverty worldwide has dropped substantially over the last few decades. One of the reasons for this drop is trade liberalisation. To eradicate persistent extreme poverty, especially in Africa, the World Bank has called on the international community to reduce trade costs, improve the trade environment, tackle specific barriers facing remote, small traders and women, and mitigate the risks that the poor face
The Center for Global Development‘s recommendations to the EU identified an issue with EU rules of origin. Countries that manufacture products using components sourced from other African countries find it difficult to prove they have sufficient domestic content to access reduced tariffs or provisions of a trade agreement, which disincentivises regional value chains. The CGD also maintains that agricultural subsidies undermine development and have little benefit for the environment. A study for the European Parliament Development Committee found that, under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), some targeted support for particular agricultural products distorted markets and there was a lack of coherence between agriculture and climate goals. The CAP goes to the heart of internal EU controversies. In a negotiation between equal partners in which one side is negatively affected by subsidies, however, the two partners will have to be bold enough to tackle it head-on.
Migration is a similarly controversial issue which the two partners will not be able to duck. Most Africans who want to move wish to do so within Africa, although 27% still wish to move to Europe. As countries get richer, migration increases, until they reach the mid-range of upper middle-income status. Out of 54 African countries, 9 currently have World Bank upper-middle income status or above and 23 have lower-middle income status. The potential for increased migration, therefore, is real. African countries have particular security concerns about the risk of youth unemployment: migration both helps mitigate the issue and allows the country of origin to benefit from remittances.
What is in it for the EU? To start with, although limiting migration is often cast as a security measure, if conflicts are exacerbated by unemployment the EU can expect additional migration flows. Europe suffers from demographic pressures that are the opposite to Africa’s: its population is aging. Legal migration pathways have the potential to benefit both sides, and the Commission cannot sustainably continue with business as usual. Pressure from Africa may be useful in forcing it to act. The expansion of Global Skills Partnerships (GSPs), as highlighted by the CDG report, could be useful both in Africa-to-Africa migration and Africa-to-Europe. They can be supported by the Commission, but not instigated by it. The Flanders region has already enacted a GSP: it pays for ICT training in Morocco, and some of the workers stay in the local market while others come to Flanders to resolve local labour shortages. That allows for legal, permanent migration opportunities without depriving the local markets of talent. Both sides should find the political will to discuss new migration opportunities, rather than remaining dogmatically focused on migration control and enforcement.
Overall, if the EU truly wishes to have a sibling-like relationship with Africa, that will involve much more sharing and compromise. A solution on legal migration is of particular interest to Africa and something the EU will have to find the political will for, and the reduction of EU trade barriers would benefit both partners in the long run as Africa continues to grow and do business with Europe. Moving away from a donor-recipient relationship means that the EU will be dealing with a much more organised, powerful and assertive African Union than that of 20 years ago. The post-Cotonou dialogue is a fork in the road. Whether the two continents take the well-travelled route or dare to try something different will determine their intertwined future for decades to come.