EU-Africa partnership in doubt

The EU has greatly neglected Africa as a trading partner. On 10-11 December, the EU organised a conference in Harare to raise awareness on the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and Africa. On 12 September, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker announced that Africa “needs true and fair partnership and we Europeans need this partnership as much.” The African Union has long urged the EU to broaden its engagement on the continent. Yet, hanse data show that in international trade, the EU has neglected Africa increasingly. In contrast, China engaged.

Sub-Saharan Africa saw its market share in EU imports stagnate at 1.6 percent in 2007 and 2016. Africa’s trade with the EU is highly concentrated and in sectors that are shrinking in EU imports. The 10 sectors, out of 98 sectors (chapter in HS 2002) where Africa has the largest market share declined in EU imports from 16.9 percent of total EU imports in 2007 to 15.5 percent in 2016. The 10 sectors represent 72.9 percent of EU imports from Africa in 2016 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Africa's most important trade sectors


Sub-Saharan Africa increased its market share in Chinese imports from 2.9 percent in 2007 to 3.3 percent in 2016. Africa’s trade with China is also highly concentrated with the 10 largest sectors representing 94.6 percent of total Chinese imports from Africa. On average, those sectors are increasing in Chinese imports from a share of 24.4 percent in total Chinese imports in 2007 to a share of 27.1 percent in 2016. However, Africa is expanding its market share fastest in sectors that have seen a decline in Chinese imports. The 10 sectors where Africa increased its market share fastest declined in total Chinese imports from 12.7 percent in 2007 to 10.5 percent in 2016 including tobacco, iron and steel, nickel, copper, wool, trees, ores, fruit and nuts, vegetable textile fibres ad raw hides.

The engagement with Africa remains subdued. While China is pressing ahead, trade relations with the EU have increasingly deteriorated. If partnerships with Africa are to become meaningful, it would be reflected first and foremost in international trade. Africa’s declining share in EU imports is a sign of disengagement. For a partnership to matter it would also need to be reflected in the more dynamic sectors of trade.

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