Monday, April 15, 2024

Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact

The launch of a new EU treaty with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states has been overshadowed by disputes over the clean-energy transition, critical minerals, and the refusal of over 30 countries to sign the treaty this week.

Addressing lawmakers from the EU and ACP on Wednesday (21 February), Jutta Urpilainen, the EU’s international partnerships commissioner, insisted that “in an era of unprecedented geopolitical challenges, the EU is not turning its back on its partners…leaving no one behind.”

However, despite EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen describing Africa as Europe’s “sister continent”, EU officials have become increasingly concerned by the bloc’s waning economic influence across much of Africa because of the rise of China and other actors.

Meanwhile, Russia and its mercenary group, formerly known as Wagner, have become increasingly influential, at the expense of France and the EU, in the Sahel and much of West Africa.

In a nod to this, Urpilainen remarked that “we fully understand that we are not the only ones who make offers”.

That message was underscored during debates this week in the joint parliamentary assembly of the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific community (EU-ACP JPA) in Angola’s capital, Luanda.

The EU-ACP JPA meetings were the first since the signing of the Samoa Agreement last November, which sets out political and economic relations between the EU’s 27 nations and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries for the next two decades.

However, over 30 ACP countries, including 20 African states, have refused to sign the agreement (which provisionally entered into force in January), and critics of the Samoa Agreement argue that it leaves trade relations between the EU and the three blocs completely unchanged.

Instead, trade is determined by so-called Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the EU and regional blocs.

“We are in a sea of agreements and an ocean of treaties,” said Uganda’s Thomas Tayebwa, who asked “how are these consistent with regional agreements?”

AU mega-mandate failure

Prior to the start of negotiations on the new treaty in 2020, African states were embroiled in an internal dispute after signalling that they would abandon the ACP process and instead give the African Union a mandate to negotiate a continent-to-continent trade pact with Brussels.

However, those plans were abandoned in favour of the status quo after Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya led a group of countries in opposition to the AU mandate.

Insiders say that the U-turn was made amid fears that the AU might thus become too powerful.

The treaty was then delayed by opposition from Poland and Hungary who criticised its lack of new provisions on migration control and migrant returns.

The von der Leyen commission has sought to put its Global Gateway investment programme, modelled on China’s Belt and Road initiative, at the heart of its offer to Africa.

Urpilainen pledged that the Global Gateway scheme would fund projects to give 100 million people across Africa access to electricity by 2030. She also added that countries that have not signed the Samoa Agreement cannot enter into new financial contracts with the European Investment Bank under the Global Gateway programme.

Urpilainen also pointed to a deal brokered between Brussels and Namibia last year on green hydrogen and critical raw materials as a model for co-operation.

“Our aim is not to extract and export critical raw materials…our aim is to create national and local value,” said Urpilainen.

“We are looking forward to a 50-50 partnership with the EU on issues like critical raw materials,” said Zambian lawmaker Sibeso Sefulo.

Others expressed fears that the EU’s focus on net-zero carbon emissions and phasing out fossil fuels will hit African economies, despite their low contributions to global emissions.

“We all understand the dangers of fossil fuels, but we need a fair and just energy transition that won’t keep Africa in poverty,” said Thomas Tayebwa, deputy speaker of Uganda’s parliament, during the plenary debate.

“Even if we exploit our fossils, the emissions of Africa won’t exceed four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in more effort to reduce our emissions. We must do more but the developed world needs to do much more,” he added.

Meanwhile, at a World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi next week, India and South Africa are expected to formally protest against the EU’s recently-introduced Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, arguing that it will penalise their economies and breach WTO rules.

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