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Samira Rafaela: EU needs to harness Africa’s strategic importance

MEP Samira Rafaela shares her views with Rob Francis about EU-Africa trade relations, ratifying the updated EU-Chile free trade agreement, trade-and-gender issues, and the coming forced labour product import ban.

What more can the EU do to enhance its trade relations with Africa?

The African continent is of enormous strategic importance – but the EU hasn’t always seen it like that.

The pandemic, the geopolitical situation, and the energy crisis have really shown that we need to look for other kinds of strong partnerships in the world.

Europe has always been interested in the African continent, but what we have not been doing so much is to develop stronger solid economic partnerships.

I would like to see a paradigm shift from the conservative and the traditional development aid, towards an equal relationship where we make investments that are sustainable, fair, and responsible, and one where we create more economic partnership agreements with African countries.

I hope to hear some good news from ongoing Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations with Kenya this summer.

Concluding this negotiation would be strategically very important, not least due to Kenya’s potential in developing green hydrogen needed for reaching net-zero. I see a lot of potential there.

The European Commission recently concluded negotiations with Angola on a sustainable investment agreement – is this cherry-picking approach the future of EU trade relations with Africa?

From Europe we tend to see Africa as one country.

But the diversity of the African continent is enormous. There is not one African country that is not different from another.

This is not about cherry-picking. Some African countries develop quicker than others in terms of sustainability or more democratic stability. That all plays a role.

What are the prospects for the African Continental Free Trade Area?

Every African country with whom we can make a good agreement adds to the final mission that we foresee: and that’s hopefully a continent-to-continent trade agreement.

When it comes to the AfCFTA, we need to look specifically at where help is needed.

In particular, we need to see where we can cooperate on sustainability, gender equality, and innovation in agriculture.

I’d like to see the EU be more flexible on demanding compliance with its sustainability standards. We could offer support by transferring knowledge and expertise so African countries can develop the same standards that we are demanding from them.

Should the EU see its new focus on Africa as an exercise in ‘friendshoring’?

This is not about friendshoring.

For Africa and Europe, trade can be a true driver for job creation, employment, improved human rights, labour conditions, and environmental standards.

This is about making use of the great opportunities in Africa and Europe and to see where we can cooperate on, for example, sustainability, equality, innovation, and the development of the agricultural sector.

We can then see which African countries want to cooperate. After all, when it comes to trade, it takes two to tango.

Hopefully Kenya serves as an inspiring example for other African countries to follow.

And then hopefully these African countries can group these agreements as part of the continental economic integration, so they can leverage their resources towards the EU.

The EU and Chile recently updated their bilateral trade agreement. Are you happy with the outcome of the negotiations?

The parliament is still waiting for the final text to arrive.

I told the commission beforehand that I have three red ‘flags’.

First, there cannot be a dedicated trade and gender chapter without protections for indigenous people – for example ILO convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples.

Second, there must be a strong review clause in the trade and sustainable development chapter that can be triggered anytime by any party.

And thirdly, any changes should involve the European Parliament, which should even have a vote.

I hope the chapter in the EU-Chile agreement will set a precedent for future trade agreements.

But there cannot just be provisions on gender.

You need a strong strategy where you target female consumers and entrepreneurs.

You need to make agreements about the skills women can develop as entrepreneurs, and you need investments into e-commerce. This can be a way for women to combine their household tasks with their business.

The trade agreement’s provisions also need to be binding on the parties so that if there are violations regarding the fundamental rights of women and the rights they have as consumers or entrepreneurs, we can follow up with the enforceability mechanisms in the agreement.

Women should also be part of the agreement’s in-built stakeholder dialogues.

Are you worried that the EU-Chile Enhanced Framework Agreement won’t be ratified in time for the EU elections?

It’s important to speed up the agreement’s ratification process. Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis is of the same view – and he said he will see where he can speed up the process.

This needs to happen in light of the geopolitical situation.

We need to guarantee our access to Chile’s lithium. We need it for the green transition, for our batteries, and for the transformation of our industrial sector.

You’re also the co-rapporteur for the EUs legislative proposal on forced labour. What are your priorities here?

Forced labour is a very specific violation of human rights that we needed to solve yesterday.

What makes the coming forced labour ban instrument unique is in its provisions for remedy. We need to ensure that complainants have access to complaint procedures, and that we engage meaningfully with vulnerable groups such as women, migrants, and rural communities.

I will be paying attention to the planned database based on which important decisions will be taken.

If we organise this database and the information infrastructure well, and if we can organise the exchange of knowledge and expertise about the specific products coming from certain regions, we will have a strong and powerful tool in place.

Of course, the forced labour instrument should always be WTO-compatible. That’s very important.

I hope that I can also bring in gender mainstreaming issues and intersectionality. Forced labour is more present in certain vulnerable groups, such as women and girls in the textile industry, and in countries which have very hierarchical societies such as Bangladesh and India.

 

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Samira Rafaela is the international trade committee coordinator in the liberal Renew Europe group in the European Parliament. The Dutchwoman is also rapporteur for the EU-Chile Advanced Framework Agreement, Renew’s spokesperson for EU-Africa trade relations, and co-rapporteur for the European Commission’s proposal banning of products made with forced labour.

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