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Long-awaited new trade treaty lacks substance for Africa

Mandarins in Brussels call it a turning point but the deal makes few commitments on trade terms, climate and migration cash

The European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific Community on Thursday (15 April) signed off on the successor to the Cotonou agreement, ending two-and-a-half years of negotiations (AC Vol 61 No 25, Old treaty rolls over).

The EU's chief negotiator, Jutta Urpilainen, says the post-Cotonou treaty, which must be ratified before the end of November, marks a 'turning point'.

Critics say the deal has lots of bones but precious little meat. In exchange for new promises on return and re-admission of migrants from African countries, with the prospect of sanctions for non-compliance, the EU has promised to offer more generous terms on 'circular migration' and 'legal pathways' (AC Vol 60 No 10, EU-ACP ties in question).

The other significant new addition is the inclusion of the UN-agreed Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate change agreement in the text. The EU wants to export its green diplomacy, primarily by imposing a carbon levy on imports, to encourage other countries to make their own transitions to renewable energy.

That is likely to hit African states, which are among the lowest contributors to global carbon emissions but are struggling to finance the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy at home.

African states are expected to request more EU funding and investment for their own energy transitions; a High-Level Forum between EU and African officials on 23 April may offer some pointers.

For now, the lofty promises of cash and political cooperation exist only on paper. The new agreement will not change trading arrangements between the EU and ACP or include a funding line from the EU budget, as the Cotonou agreement had.



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