I welcome the fact that trade and investment relations with Africa are a Presidency priority. This approach mirrors the new EU trade strategy, which was launched a year ago.
Africa is our neighbour and natural partner. The ties binding us are already strong, but there is vast potential to do more. Our two continents should strive for closer economic integration, while driving the green and digital transitions of our economies and societies. In this way, we can build a modern, sustainable and mutually rewarding partnership of equals. The upcoming EU-African Union Summit in February will be an important milestone in this respect.
Before elaborating on trade and investment issues, I would like to briefly highlight our work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In order to respond to current and future health challenges, improvements must be made in terms of vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing, health infrastructure, research capacity and preparedness.
This will support Africa’s capacity to deal with current and future challenges. The EU is the leading exporter of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, and we have already begun collaborating on regional hubs to produce vaccines for Africa, in Africa. I look forward to that partnership growing.
The same “partnership of equals” approach applies to our trade policy. With our new strategy, our aim is to work together to unlock Africa’s economic potential for diversification and growth. This work falls under four “headline actions”:
First, we propose to step up political dialogue and cooperation with the African Union and its Members.
We continue to support the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Achieving this will represent a historic milestone.
The potential to increase trade, economic growth, job creation and integration across the continent remains enormous, because today, only around 17% of African trade flows take place between African countries.
Of course, there will be challenges along the way, and the EU stands ready to help. We want to share the lessons from our own process of economic integration, and with our new Global Gateway Strategy, we have demonstrated that we are ready to support massive infrastructural investment in Africa.
Second, the EU has a diverse range of trade agreements with countries in Africa. These are dynamic partnerships, in which we advance step-by-step, for our mutual benefit. Our aim is to widen and deepen these economic and partnership agreements with those African countries that are willing to do so.
Third, we are keen to explore the possibility of enhancing links and synergies between the EU’s different trade arrangements with African countries, such as through the harmonisation of rules of origin. This will also improve the resilience of our economies, through diversified value chains and the development of trade in sustainable products.
And fourth, the EU has proposed sustainable investment initiatives with interested countries or regions in Africa, and we have already started negotiations with several partners.
These four strands also feed into the long-term goal of a continent-to-continent free trade agreement.
The Commission mentioned this vision in its Africa-Europe Alliance Communications of 2018 and 2020.
I would also like to add that a strong focus on sustainable development is crucial for both sides.
As a good example, our Cocoa Talks with countries in Western Africa, launched last year, have proven to be a success.
Furthermore, with the Review of the EU Generalised System of Preferences, which concerns a majority of countries in Africa, the Commission proposes to include adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement as a condition to offer generous tariff preferences to developing countries.
Let me also stress that we want to work with African countries to support an ambitious WTO reform program. WTO rules and practices must be updated and improved to reflect today’s trade realities. I believe we can reach the right level of mutual trust, to enable us to speak with one voice in multilateral fora. And I know we have a strong ally in this respect in WTO Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Finally, in order to maximise the capacity of our trade agreements to promote trade and investment, we need to mobilise the business sectors on both sides. The upcoming EU-Africa Business Forum, which takes place in the margins of the EU-Africa Summit in February, can help us to achieve this goal.
I count on the support of all EU Members States, in a “Team Europe” spirit, and I count on the support of the French Presidency, to make concrete progress.
By Valdis Dombrovskis
Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade as well as chairing the Commissioners' group on an Economy that Works for People