Reshaping of the Africa / Middle East Region

The Moroccan Government has recently adopted the draft law on the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ZLECAF), paving the way for its ratification by the parliament. In this context, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat, current President of the Commission of the African Union (AU), considers the entry into force of the “ZLECAF” in the weeks to come. However, while the agreement itself is good news for Africa, which is expected to speak with a robust voice for the 54 countries in the upcoming international negotiations, the President may have been too optimistic about short period of time for entry into force of the agreement. Indeed, for this protocol to be consumed, the acceding states have the obligation to review any previous agreements they have concluded with other countries (the EU is particularly targeted) to make them comply with the terms of the protocol of the “ZLECAF”.

In the circumstances, Morocco is still negotiating, since 2013, a comprehensive and thorough free trade agreement with the EU whose main goal is to push Morocco in fulfilling UE food standards. In the end, this will be tantamount to restricting the possibilities of diversifying our international export outside continental Europe, for example to the US market with which we have signed a clear and clean free-trade agreement but maintained under refrigeration for nothing. Europe has also established, in the case of each of our interested African states, as well as for other countries throughout the world, more or less similar memoranda of understanding for trading with UE market. These numerous protocols, which the EU usually sign on to third parties in position of strength, most often support very asymmetrical trade, favoring Europeans to the detriment of other contracting countries. Under these conditions, for improving such bilateral agreements already signed with the EU and in force, to make them in accordance with the terms of the “ZLECAF” protocol, we should be focusing in correcting, for the countries of our continent, the asymmetry which characterizes such agreements. In other words, these protocols should be made a little more balanced by furthering African signatory countries. But one may have doubts about the chances of success of such an attempt and be skeptical about the acceptance of Europeans to gracefully adhere to the possible process of rectifying the agreements in question in this spirit. It is therefore more than likely, in our opinion, that the Europeans will seek (in substance) to hinder the process of “ZLECAF” by any means at their disposal, including bribing of leaders, blackmailing, corruption, using the CFA Franc leverage, visas, procrastination, denigration, “Fake News” and so on.

On another level, it is worth pointing out that the approach aimed at eliminating or reducing the asymmetry of trade between the EU and our countries on the south side of the Mediterranean can only be seriously considered if there is a radical overhaul of the specific EU standards which are, beyond protectionism itself, the Cerberus knowingly posed to control access to the Community market. The task is all the more difficult as EU officials tend to interpret any attempt to modifying (even backed by strong scientific arguments) of their standards as mean of weakening of their international status. On this level, even if we do not accept this dogmatic position of the EU, we understand it better if we take into consideration the fact that the EU is increasingly forced into the role of an immense mercantile structure. The origin of the downgrading of the EU’s status from the position of a set of major industrial and innovation nations to a large trading structure is to be found largely in the “side effects” of implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Initially, the CAP was launched to cover Europe’s food needs. But very quickly, the European Caciques saw the benefits to be drawn to perpetuate the stranglehold of Europe on African wealth. They then initiated the rewarding of European farmers (mostly French) according to their production. This system quickly resulted in an abundance of food supply and propelled France to the leading role in shaping the European agricultural strategy that feeds the CAP. Abundance then became superabundance, opportunely deviated to satisfy desires of African “elites”. At the same time, it was suggested and / or asked of these “elites” to make sure maintaining   the status quo of relations established with the EU. France, also in this case, will have had the leading roles in this strategy. Many solid testimonies support these facts. But for the past decade, the CAP, from which France has made better profits, more than any other EU country, can no longer afford to be so squandering. As a result, the French farmers, and by extension the entire social fabric of the country, who have been accustomed to receiving EU aid without counting, for simply to carrying out their work at their own pace and totally ignoring the competitive aspect of trading, are now under severe strain. For the first time, the operators concerned need to reason in terms of competitiveness in an increasingly competitive global environment, which they have not been able to do for a long time. This explains the French President’s statements at last week’s Paris Agricultural Show, where he argued that “today’s agricultural Europe is under threat from the outside“, that there is needing to “reinvent” the CAP so to revalue the income of French farmers who are indeed in great distress. What the President of the Republic is trying to do is, in short, a quiet appeal for EU subsidies. At the same time, the EU is preparing to lose, with Brexit, a big net contributor to the CAP. The statements by the French President can therefore be understood as an invitation directed towards the Germans for a greater contribution to the CAP. But German officials have repeatedly confirmed their refusal to put more money in this program. The result is the disaster that has settled in the French agricultural and agri-food sector. That, perhaps, explains the greater sensitivity (aggressiveness) of the French for everything that touches the “European” agricultural sector. In the past, this issue has contributed significantly to the failure of the Doha Round negotiations in the WTO and blocked the way for Turkey’s acceptance into the EU.

On the other hand, it is now thirty years since the Europeans introduced the Euro with great enthusiasm and they had, at that time, many reasons to be optimistic. But after that, one has the impression that the Gods are beating on the whole of Europe. There were all these series of health problems of the nineties (mad cow, dioxins etc.). Then there were great tensions with the Americans following the Iraq war, which left traces until today. After that, there was the fall of the big investment bank Lehman Brothers, which at the same time was a sort of favored entry point for German businessmen in the US market. As a consequence of these problems, and “Dieselgate” and others, the EU has lost most of its benchmarks to, inter alia; maintain its trade privileges with the Middle East. In the same vein, the Gulf monarchies have largely curtailed their traditional investments in Europe. There was also the loss of the Russian market for agricultural and agri-food products, of which Turkey recovered a good part. There is now the announced exit of the UK (Brexit) from the common market etc. But out of all of this, the “good African” guys are still here doing business to European satisfaction. The EU has been careful to “commandeer”, by means of tailor-made standards, the products of the African agricultural sector for the benefit of many wheeler-dealers. They do what they want with our raw products to use them directly or to value them (transform) and resell them in other international markets with capital gains for their own profit. For this, they use any means of propaganda to promote the “supremacy” of the EU standards in question on the rest of the world. In this respect, the Americans have so far refrained from openly criticizing the European standards in question. Of course, they defended their position against these EU norms before the WTO and gained their cause. But, this attitude is changing now. Indeed, in last days, the US ambassador to the UK, Mr. Woody Johnson, has compared the agricultural know-how of the EU to practices frozen in a sort of museum of agricultural history blocking any effort of innovation and that some of their standards come under philosophy rather than science! This confirms, if need be, the end of American neutrality in the face of the EU campaign for the “supremacy” of its standards.

The message of the American ambassador can also be interpreted as an appeal to us Africans that exporting to US market has been greatly simplified. It is enough to set up a Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) system, an “instrument” whose acquisition is perfectly free and largely sufficient for the FDA. HARPC is the latest (enhanced) version of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which all operators are now familiar with. We then win in time, money and we eliminate the useless businessmen.

In the end, there is no doubt that the remodeling of the forces of influence in our great region of Africa / Middle East is largely under way.