Letter from Brussels

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In the first of his letters from the EU headquarters in Brussels, Francois Misser report on the latest stance towards Africa in general and South Africa in particular.

At the end of October, the European Union (EU) began finalising its investigations and deliberations for a five-year strategy towards Africa and other developing regions of the world. The main thrust of focus for Africa is regional development, followed by a more flexible approach to structural adjustment and a shake up of the Sysmin programme.

The first of these is proving a sticking point in the case of Southern Africa because several sectors inside South Africa and its neighbouring countries are pressing Pretoria to reject the EU's offer for a free trade agreement (FTA).

Further north in Central Africa, EU cooperation priorities - spurred on by the potential disintegration of the Zaire-Rwanda-Burundi triangle - aim to consolidate the economies of those countries unaffected by war and to support regional integration.

By mid-October, European Ministers had agreed to assist the efforts of the newborn Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (EMCCA) which includes Chad, Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea.

In the run up to the millenium, the EU will concentrate on continued improvements to the region's transport infrastructure in order to increase the competitiveness of EMCCA economies. A precondition to this however, is the opening up of maritime transport to international competition and the privatisation of domestic and regional road and river transport companies.

In the agricultural domain, EU assistance will help to establish more outlets for the region's agriculture with a particular emphasis on research and improving the commercial value of products.

A high priority for the EU and the EMCCA is the conservation of the rainforest, which plays a crucial role in the preservation of global bio-diversity. The challenge is to combine a self-sustainable development of agricultural and timber resources with environmental protection. The EU recognises the depth of the task it faces, particularly that posed by the alliance between Asian timber companies, known for their intensive and uncontrolled logging practices, and those national authorities which look after short-term interests only. In order to address this, the EU intends to involve civil society in conservation projects.

EU - South Africa deadlock on Free Trade

One of the most complex issues, the EU has had to confront is negotiations with South Africa for an FTA. Towards the end of September, the climate deteriorated after EC officials opposed a proposal from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance ISCOR's steel plant project at Saldanha Bay to the tune of Ecu 60m.

The opposition pivoted around the argument that such funding would be inconsistent with European policy which refuses subsidies to the European steel industry. …