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EU pursuing new trade deals with Africa
By CONSTANT BRAND
BRUSSELS, Belgium, 11 January 2008 - European Union officials said Friday they would continue to pursue aid-and-trade deals with Europe's former colonies in Africa and the Pacific despite criticism from aid group Oxfam that the pacts do little to fight poverty.
Only 35 of the 78 nations that make up the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group, which include some of the poorest in the world, have signed or initialed so-called Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU, officials said.
Efforts to meet a Dec. 31 deadline set by the World Trade Organization for reaching regional trade pacts with all countries in the ACP failed. The WTO had ordered the 27-nation EU to end 30-year preferential trade ties with the former colonies after it deemed they were unfair to nations excluded from the arrangement.
Despite missing the deadline, the EU will continue talks to bring in other nations, officials said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations.
Many of those that did sign up to a phased-in free-trade pact, including the opening up of services and investment markets, were richer countries, including the entire 15 group of Caribbean nations.
The European officials were particularly critical of Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, all of which remain hesitant to sign up to the pacts and which have urged others not to sign up.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said last month that most African leaders dismissed the EU's free-trade proposals out of fear they would leave their countries vulnerable to cheap European imports that would damage economic development at home.
EU spokesman Peter Power told reporters that EU trade and development experts met a Senegalese delegation that was in Brussels to participate in a demonstration outside EU headquarters against the trade deals.
Some 400 activists stood outside the EU buildings demanding a stop to the partnership pacts.
"We continue to urge them to sign in order to complete the process of our negotiations throughout Africa but it is their choice," Power said.
Aid group Oxfam, which has been a strong opponent to the EU's plan to develop the new trade ties and which participated in Friday's demonstration, renewed its criticism of the pacts and urged EU negotiators to re-examine their trade policy with the countries.
"They need to go back to the drawing board and really engage the concerns of the regions," said Alexander Woollcombe from Oxfam.
He said the current deals, which leave a patchwork of countries in and out of regional pacts across Africa will do little to enhance regional economic integration or fight poverty. "It would have a great detrimental impact on development," Woollcombe said.
The EU's plan is to develop six regional trade pacts with the Caribbean, central Africa, eastern and southern Africa, west Africa, the Southern African Development Community, and the Pacific group of former colonies. Some of those nations, such as Somalia, Sudan and East Timor, are among the world's least developed.
Those countries already have quota-free and duty-free access to EU markets for their exported goods.
Under the deals, the EU is offering African governments unrestricted access to its 27-country market if they in turn grant tariff reductions for European goods -- a measure Africans fear will make their less competitive local companies vulnerable.
The EU wants to shift to a system where it will open its markets immediately but will allow African, Caribbean and Pacific regions to do so more gradually over 15 years.
On top of greater market access the EU has pledged some euro2 billion (US$2.9 billion) in new aid to develop trade infrastructure and food safety standards. The ACP nations are also benefiting from euro23 billion (US$34 billion) in aid over the next seven years.