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EU Commissions seeks free-trade deal with Africa

European Commission is strategizing to forge a new  partnership with Africa on a free-trade deal between the two continents.
The Africa-Europe Alliance dubbed ``co-owned economic partnership’’ is  for Sustainable Investment and Jobs does not offer new money or funding instruments.
EU Senior official said: “We have the ongoing political framework,” the official said, referring to the joint Africa-EU strategy, reaffirmed at the African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, last year.
“But you don’t have a joint economic strategy from both sides, and that is what we’re trying to do.”
The alliance will support the creation of 10 million jobs in the next five years according to the EC.
It envisages a greater role for the private sector via initiatives such as the European External Investment Plan; ongoing student exchanges; an improved business climate through country dialogues; and building on trade relationships, such as Economic Partnership Agreements.
The long-term goal, announced by EC President Jean-Claude Juncker at his final State of the Union speech in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday, is to “develop the numerous trade agreements between African and EU countries into a continental free-trade agreement, an economic partnership between equal partners.”
``Seeing the EU-Africa relationship solely through the prism of development would be “insufficient and in fact humiliating for Africa,” Juncker added to applause from members of the European Parliament and Commission.
However, the EU official said a free-trade deal between the two continents depends on first making the African Continental Free Trade Area, or AfCFTA, agreed by AU member states in March, a reality.
“Of course, it’s a long, long way to get there in terms of harmonizing the standards, facilitating the customs controls etc.,” the official said. The commission’s plan includes boosting technical assistance for AfCFTA to €50 million ($58.09 million) between 2018-2020.
The response from European civil society and African partners to the planned alliance was lukewarm.
“Having heard that there would be a big announcement during the president’s speech this morning, we were all expecting something really new,” said
Viwanou Gnassounou, assistant secretary-general in the sustainable economic
development and trade department of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific group of states. “But we just heard that there will be ‘strengthened commitment,’ so we’re looking forward to hearing something a little bit more concrete.”
Gnassounou also criticized EPAs, which the EC plan portrayed as “building blocks” to a larger EU-Africa trade deal.
“The way they have been finalized and implemented, not only are [they] not encouraging regional integration,” he said. “They are not preparing the way to create regional value chains, creating growth and employment.”
The EC plan was similarly met with concern by NGOs, with the activist group ONE taking issue with Juncker saying, “Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships.”
“Aid is not charity, it’s an investment in our common future,” the group said in a statement. “Today, more than 100 million children in Africa are out of school. Europe can’t tell those children that their dream of learning to read and write is ‘a thing of the past.’”
Maria Heubuch, a Greens member of the European Parliament from Germany, lamented Juncker’s failure to put significant new funds behind Africa’s economic development. Investments, jobs, and training are important, she said in a statement, “but without money, it is just empty words.”
The EU plan comes after China announced $60 billion in financing for Africa last week through grants, interest-free and concessional loans, credit lines, and the purchase of African imports.
“The Chinese go the typical Chinese way where they put one big figure forward,” the EU official said. “But then, when you start digging a bit deeper, you realize the $60 billion is composed of very shaky elements.
``For instance, $10 billion for stronger imports of African products to China … what does that mean? We’re not coming up with one big figure [because] that depends on the buy-in of the African partners, the stronger coordination inside Europe and of course the buy-in of the private sector.”