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EU Seeks To Develop Trade With Africa

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

28 April 2009

EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton called for a continued push on trade facilitation to help developing countries, especially in Africa, reap the benefits of global trade.

In remarks delivered to a conference in Rome entitled 'The role of Trade Facilitation: promoting market integration with a focus on Africa', Commissioner Ashton argues that "cumbersome, outdated bureaucracies and infrastructure stifle trade and entrepreneurship, discourage investment and encourage corruption." Small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly vulnerable, she added.

The solution, according to Ashton, is for developed and developing countries to work together to simplify trade procedures, which will reduce delays, cut costs, improve the services offered to consumers, and help many companies get into overseas markets in the first place.

On the multilateral front, the EU supports the development of a more binding rules-based approach in the World Trade Organization (WTO), with trade facilitation also a prominent element in the Doha Round of world trade talks. African business has joined European business in calling for an ambitious Doha agreement.

The European Commission estimates that a trade facilitation agreement in WTO could bring trade gains equal to those of industrial goods tariff cuts and services liberalisation combined in the Doha Round.

In parallel to the WTO work, the EU is also pursuing trade facilitation in regional and bilateral initiatives, including with the USA, South Africa, China, Asean, Mercosur and ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries, Ashton said.

The EU is complementing the efforts of developing countries to improve the situation through Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. EPAs aim amongst other things to reinforce cooperation in the area of customs and trade facilitation. In Africa, a stated goal is to promote harmonisation of customs legislation and procedures to improve trade between the EU and Africa.

Ashton travelled to Southern Africa in February to hold talks with key government leaders with a view to moving forward bilateral and region-to-region trade relationships. A key objective of these discussions is an EPA between the EU and Southern African countries.

EPA Negotiations with members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) group of countries were launched in 2004.

In 2007 South Africa joined as an official member of the "SADC EPA" Group. An interim EPA was initialled at the end of 2007 with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique. Angola can join the agreement, but as a Least Developed Country in the meantime maintains full market access through the EU's Everything But Arms provision.

The EU and South Africa signed the Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement (TDCA) in 1999. The objective of the TDCA is to create a free-trade area between South Africa and the EU over a period of 12 years, with the EU opening its market at a faster pace. At the same time, the Southern African Customs Union, consisting of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland now provides for a deeper level of integration amongst some of the countries of the SADC grouping. One of the key challenges in implementing an EPA with SADC is to reconcile these various trade relationships.

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