African Union and EU to Strengthen Trade and Economic Links

At the 6th AU-EC college-to-college meeting in Addis-Ababa on 26 April, the responsible Commissioners on both sides looked at issues relating to trade, infrastructure, raw materials, good governance in taxation and regional integration.

In all these sectors the objective is to strengthen the partnership at a time when Africa is becoming a region with one of the strongest economic growths in the world.

On the AUC side, the debate brought together Dr. Maxwell Mkwezalamba (Economic Affairs), Dr. Elham Mahmoud Ibrahim (Infrastructure and Energy), Mrs Fatima Haram Acyl (Trade and Industry), Mr Erastus Mwencha (Vice President), Mrs Tumusiime Rhoda Peace (Rural Economy and Agriculture) as well as representatives of the African Development Bank, the Regional Economic Communities and NEPAD. On the EUC side, participants were Mr De Gucht (Trade), Mr Šemeta (Taxation, Customs, Audit, Anti-Fraud), Mr Cioloş (Agriculture and Rural Development) and representatives of the European Investment Bank.

Regional programmes and continental policies

In the field of trade and development, the new Commissioner, Fatima Haram Acyl, presented the AU priorities for 2013. These concern implementation of the AU summit decisions with a view to:

stimulating intra-African trade,

ultimately establishing a continental free trade area,

applying the AU action plan for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA).

Commissioners De Gucht and Acyl stressed the important economic benefits, both for intra-African trade and for trade between Africa and the EU, that would stem from trade facilitation as well as the financial cost of the measures needed to implement it in Africa. The EU and Africa will combine their efforts to try and obtain on agreement on trade facilitation and possibly other measures such as food security at the next WTO meeting in Bali.

Regarding negotiations for Regional Economic Partnership Agreements, the EU and African countries are to intensify their political dialogue with the aim of concluding negotiations as soon as possible. On the agenda in this respect are a visit to Brussels in the near future by the AUC Vice President and representatives of the African Regional Economic Communities as well as two trips to Africa by Commissioner De Gucht.

In the field of infrastructure, Commissioner Ibrahim launched the discussion on the AU's Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa. The PIDA remains a priority for the EU-Africa partnership, in terms of energy, transport, and information and communication technologies (ICTs). European support, in particular through the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund managed by the EIB, has helped in drawing up projects capable of attracting investment, with particular focus on regional transport corridors and inter-connectors.

The participants also debated projects for specific cooperation such as support programmes for civil aviation, air transport and the applications of satellite services in Africa, the maritime charter, cooperation on maritime security and transport projects in the PIDA.

In the raw materials sector, there is growing awareness in the EU and US of issues of governance, transparency and supply chains of raw materials. Commissioner De Gucht spoke of the ongoing public consultation to feed into a new EU proposal on tracking mineral resources originating in conflict areas, including the transparency of payments and supply chain management. He stressed the importance of joint actions and also raised the sensitive subject of uranium mining to supply the nuclear sector, in which Africa is becoming an emerging market. The AUC and EUC are to continue their dialogue on raw materials and the AU will be involved in consultation on minerals from conflict areas.

During the debate on governance in tax matters, Commissioner Šemeta stressed the link between good governance and an increased mobilisation of domestic revenue that is crucial for developing countries. The two Commissions agreed to work together, in particular on transfer pricing, illicit financing, transparency in tax matters, fighting tax havens and unfair competition.

Regarding the objectives of regional economic integration in Africa, Commissioner Mkwezalamba thanked the EU for its renewed support despite the financial crisis in Europe. The AU is working closely with Africa's Regional Economic Communities on the integration agenda. The ultimate aim is to create a continental free trade area. Commissioner Šemeta stressed the need to find "African solutions to African problems" while the EU's experience with the single market could be useful in fields such as legal and institutional frameworks, competition policy, public procurement, intellectual property, tariff nomenclature, rules of origin and customs valuation methods.

The follow-up actions include an AU-EU workshop on 19 June in Lusaka on the governance of common markets for Eastern and Southern Africa and an AU-EU seminar on internal market issues.

Commissioner Acyl introduced the debate on the AU's action plan for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) that will require considerable financial resources. The EU welcomes the initiative that involves starting AIDA implementation with the regional projects of the African Economic Communities. Some projects could already be presented to the Conference of African Ministers of Industry (CAMI), in Nairobi in June. The EU and Africa have a mutual interest in regional integration in terms of growth and jobs, Commissioner De Gucht reiterated. He also believes that joint AU-EU action in the margins of the CAMI would be the occasion for launching an appeal for funds with which to finance the AIDA.

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