EU and Africa: Making an equal development partnership a reality based on sustainability and common values (own-initiative opinion)

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Mnenje strokovne skupine EESO: EU and Africa: Making an equal development partnership a reality based on sustainability and common values (own-initiative opinion)

This Opinion would seek to contribute to the new EU comprehensive strategy with Africa.

Given recent developments in the global economy, it is worth assessing how Africa's two largest commercial partners, China and the European Union, are likely to impact the region in the near future. The objective is to reveal the situation of the EU model in Africa in comparison with the Chinese one and to show the advantages of the EU approach. This EESC opinion should also reflect on the pros and cons of the respective approaches, clearly identifying potential for improvement, learnings and strategies going forward, especially in Europe.

In recent years, China's presence in Africa is steadily on the rise. One of the key channels through which China is influencing Africa's economy is investment, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative. Europe has traditionally been the largest investor in Africa, and the rise of Chinese investments is challenging the status quo.

The launch of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership and the first-ever summit between the 27 members of the EU and the 54 nations of Africa in 2007 seem to have hit a reset of sorts in the two regions' relationship. Indeed, over the last decade, the EU has worked, with a large degree of success, to transition to a partnership model based on reciprocal trade. The fifth EU-Africa Summit took place in Abidjan in 2017 against a background in which two-way trade exceeds $300 billion. In association with the summit, the EU pledged to mobilise more than $54 billion in "sustainable" investment for Africa by 2020. More recently, the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investments and Jobs launched by the European Commission in September 2018, together with the full use of the 2016 EU External Investment Plan, has demonstrated the strengthening of the relations between the two continents.

The EU is shoring up its commercial position in Africa through free trade agreements, in particular Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), which Brussels is negotiating or has concluded with 40 African nations in sub-Saharan Africa. The EPAs provide European companies with preferential access to markets across the region and will liberalise about 80% of imports over 20 years.

China's role on the African continent has been defined by the financing of more than 3 000, largely critical, infrastructure projects, according to the Aid Data Project. China has extended more than $86 billion in commercial loans to African governments and state-owned entities between 2000 and 2014, an average of about $6 billion a year. In 2015, at the sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), President Xi Jinping pledged $60 billion in commercial loans to the region, which would increase lending to at least $20 billion a year if that pledge is fulfilled. As a result, China has become the region's largest creditor, accounting for 14% of sub-Saharan Africa's total debt stock, according to Foresight Africa 2018.