Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Implementation of the Africa-EU Trade, Regional Integration and Infrastructure Partnership

The September issue of the Trade Negotiations Insights (Volume 8 • Number 7) has published a new article on the Joint Africa EU Strategy – Shortfalls and Opportunities: The Implementation of the Africa-EU Trade, Regional Integration and Infrastructure Partnership written by Veronika Tywuschik and Stéphanie Colin.

More than a year-and-a-half has passed since European Union (EU) and African Heads of State adopted the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) at the Lisbon Summit in December 2007. The main objectives of the JAES framework are to enhance political dialogue, to strengthen institutional ties and to address common challenges through a partnership of equals. This is the first arena to treat Africa as a single entity, to emphasise joint ownership and responsibility (including in the implementation), and to involve non-state actors in its institutional set up and functioning.

What has the Strategy achieved so far? Has it positively added to the EU-Africa dialogue on trade and trade-related issues? A mid-term review, approved by the JAES Ministerial Troika on 14 October 2009, is set to take place this autumn. This article provides a brief overview of the progress to date of the Trade, Regional Integration, and Infrastructure (TRII) partnership – one of the eight thematic partnerships of the JAES – and considers some of its potential, in an effort to stimulate the discussion.

Current state of affairs

In December 2007, an Action Plan was adopted by Heads of State that specifies three jointly-agreed priority actions for the TRII partnership:
Support to the African Integration Agenda
Strengthen African capacities in the area of rules, standards, and quality control
Implement the EU-Africa Infrastructure partnership

Since its adoption, the discussions have focused on finding appropriate JAES structures such as the European and African Implementation Teams (EU ITs / Af ITs) – consisting of member states, Council and Commission – and Joint Expert Groups (JEGs) – composed of EU ITs and Af Its, as well as civil society, the European Parliament and the Pan African Parliament – that were finally approved by the Ministerial Troika in September 2008. With the joint structures being in place and functioning, the JAES meetings have started to move into a more content related debate, in particular, looking at concrete early deliverables for the three priority actions in November 2008. The last Ministerial Troika meeting in April 2009 endorsed an implementation roadmap prepared by the JEGs, outlining the priorities, projects, timeline and source of financing for the partnership. The next step is to refine the roadmap, tackle the shortfalls, reach out to the stakeholders, and undertake a mid-term assessment of their respective partnerships. To do so, the partnership has to overcome various challenges in the monitoring and implementation process.

Challenges and recommendations

Experts have not taken as keen an interest in the JAES process as initially expected. In addition, though the TRII partnership has been able to claim progress in some areas, the ‘success’ has mainly rested on pre-existing initiatives which have been incorporated into the JAES such as the Infrastructure Trust Fund. The implementation of the partnership has raised questions on the added value of its contribution to the current Africa-EU dialogue on trade and regional integration processes and existing EU-Africa frameworks. Overcoming these difficulties will be an indication of the effective potential of the TRII partnership.

1. Increasing participation

EU and African actors acknowledge that increasing the participation of JAES stakeholders, in particular the member states and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), is essential for delivering further on tangible results, and is critical to the JAES, especially at the early stage of its implementation.

Compared to other partnerships, the TRII partnership shows some positive developments. It is the only JAES partnership with a Sub-Saharan co-chair (South Africa) and attended by European and African member states’ ministries beyond foreign affairs and development. In addition, over half of the participants at the last Joint Expert Group of the TRII partnership were African, which shows greater interest among African actors for that particular partnership. There is still potential for increased participation once member states have a clearer idea of their roles and interest in participating in the TRII partnership. This is particularly relevant for EU member states, as the trade-related issues dealt with fall under the competence of the European Commission, and not that of individual EU member states. Civil society organisations (CSO) participate, to some extent, in the EU and African Implementation Teams and the JEGs, yet their representative and effective participation could be increased further once the resistance of African member states and internal problems of the African and European CSO Steering Group are overcome.

Although attendance of some stakeholders, such as member states and EC officials, involved in the TRII partnership seems to be relatively high, some actors have expressed their concerns about the level of expertise in the meetings. In the future, the quality of debate in the partnership will greatly benefit from attracting more participants with an expertise on the priority actions, rather than diplomats, in line with the jointly agreed guidelines for JEGs. This will enable a full implementation of the Action Plan as discussions would be focusing further on the substance of the partnership. It remains to be seen, however, to which extent the technical aspects of the Action Plan and the roadmap will be addressed in a more systematic manner in the near future if most initiatives fall technically outside the TRII partnership.

Disconcertingly, only one REC was represented at the last JEG meeting. The current efforts made by African and EU actors to increase the information available, including the launch of a website, an intranet, as well as direct outreach to RECs, should be sustained and strengthened as the information has not yet fully reached all the relevant actors, notably the member states and the RECs at the regional level. Few are aware of its existence. The recent decision to establish more systematic contact with the RECs through the appointment of a reference person, as well as the current European Commission efforts to better inform the EC Delegations in Africa, in particular those who have regional offices to the RECs, holds potential for improvement.

The limited participation of the RECs in the TRII might be due to their limited interest in the TRII, perhaps because it is not yet, as it currently stands, perceived to be of direct relevance to them. Given their limited capacities, it is worth exploring whether a serious investment of the RECs in the partnership could be encouraged by focusing on the issues that are closest to their own priorities and processes, and by identifying the corresponding potential areas of complementarity. If lack of capacity proves to be an issue, financial support could also help tap the potential for higher input of the RECs in setting the trade and regional integration agendas of the partnership.

2. Ensuring complementarity between existing EU-African frameworks

To be relevant, the TRII partnership should bring increased synergies between African integration processes and EPAs, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and bilateral trade agreements. Support to regional integration through EPAs is further an objective of the EC as spelled out in its October 2008 communication on regional integration.

However, these issues have so far been deliberately avoided in the discussions of the TRII partnership. Political and technical dialogue on EPAs and EPA development support programmes, which is often quite sensitive and at times controversial, has taken place directly with the concerned regional groupings and countries. This is understandable from a trade negotiation perspective. Yet, as trade and regional integration are core elements of the TRII partnership, an outstanding challenge for the partnership would be to help better articulate the links and areas of complementarity between the existing processes at sub-regional level in Africa, EPAs, and the activities carried out at continental level.

One way the JAES framework could potentially play a coordination role between those existing processes would be by offering a platform for sharing experiences and knowledge between North African and Sub-Saharan African countries on ongoing regional integration initiatives. In addition, synergies on the capacity building needs for the implementation of regional integration processes and trade agreements could be better identified and linked explicitly to ongoing needs assessments in the EPA context.

3. Clarifying the added value of the partnership further

Ultimately, the merits of the TRII partnership will depend on its effective added value to current processes. Actors in Africa and in Europe, beyond the AU and European Commissions, may show more enthusiasm once the specific contribution of the JAES in the areas covered is better defined and articulated. To do so, a pragmatic but nonetheless ambitious approach is required.

A closer look at the current roadmap reveals that the priority actions are mainly resting on existing initiatives external to the JAES (see Box 1). Moreover the financial resources for activities and institutional arrangement related to the TRII partnership will more likely be managed through existing frameworks such as the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

Box 1.

Specific examples related to the three priority actions can be given as illustrations.

With regard to the first priority action ‘Support to African Regional Integration’, regional Aid for Trade packages financed under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) regional indicative programmes are counted as progress in the implementation of the first priority action. In addition, the Joint dimension of the Minimum Integration Programme (MIP) presented by the AUC in May 2009, and agreed to be a key activity for the implementation of the priority action for regional integration, would also need to be made more explicit. Similarly, among the ongoing activities in the second priority action, Africa-wide trainings on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) are provided through an existing EC initiative: the ‘Better training for Safer Food Initiative’. Finally, the priority action infrastructure, which is currently the most advanced of the three in terms of implementation, is resting on a pre-existing mechanism (the Infrastructure Trust Fund). € 147 million have been committed, eight major projects approved, and € 10 million from the 9th EDF dedicated to support the start-up phase.

A new initiative worth noting and following in terms of potential added value, however, is the decision included in the roadmap to establish a new capacity building programme on Economic Policy Development and Management.

The draft roadmap of the TRII partnership could benefit from further defining some concrete activities on areas of dialogue such as support to the AU and RECs efforts to better coordinate and rationalise regional integration processes in Africa, exchange of experiences with implementing FTAs with the EU in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, coordination of future monitoring exercises for EPAs at the sub-regional level and adapting EU support to regional integration in Africa (through Regional Indicative Programmes and regional Aid for Trade packages). The ultimate relevance of the TRII partnership will depend on its capacity to become a useful platform for EU-Africa dialogue on such trade and integration related issues in the future. If not, it will remain a mainly sterile technocratic exercise which is unlikely to attract true African and European interest for much longer.

Download whole issue – pdf

Authors: Veronika Tywuschik and Stéphanie Colin work at the European Centre for Development Policy Management.