Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit: Implications for Africa and Zimbabwe
Ronald Chipaike

Last week, international news headlines focused on the British referendum to decide on whether or not to stay in the European Union. The June 23, 2016 referendum was decided by a very close margin, with those voting to remain polling 48,1 percent and those voting to leave the EU polling 51,9 percent. This prompted prime minister David Cameron to announce his resignation, paving way for election of a new leader at the Conservative party conference in October.

Cameron had campaigned to remain in the EU, hoping Britain would be “better, safer and stronger” in the bloc.

The decision to leave, vociferously campaigned for by Cameron’s colleague in the Conservative party and former mayor of London Mr Boris Johnson, ensured Britain’s 43-year EU membership came to an end.

Because of legal requirements it will take a bit of time for the British to completely leave the EU.

However, for those who have been following British politics and Britain’s relationship with the EU, this should not have come as a surprise.

In 1975, two years after Britain was allowed into the European Economic Community, Britain’s Euro-skepticism was already apparent.

A referendum over EEC membership split Harold Wilson’s Labour government, but the public endorsed the UK’s continued membership with 67 percent voting to stay.

In 1993, John Major faced a major back-bench rebellion over the Maastricht Treaty he signed in 1992 which introduced co-operation of foreign policy and security.

In 1997, following Tony Blair’s election as PM, the Labour leader tried to rebuild the troubled ties between Britain and the EU, but in 1999 tensions grew over France’s ban on British beef at the height of the “mad cow” disease outbreak in Britain.

The Franco-British tiff was amplified by the fact that Britain’s initial attempt to join the European common market in the 1960s was vetoed by Charles de Gaulle of France, who was worried that English would take over as Europe’s main language.

Britain’s problematic relationship with the EU is also manifested in the fact that, after 27 years of “diplomatic” haggling over ingredients, British chocolate was only allowed to be sold in Europe in 2000.

Additionally, in 2011 David Cameron clashed with Europe over plans to introduce a levy on banks and restrict London’s financial sector.

In 2015, the migrant crisis facing Europe and a troubled eurozone (although Britain is not part of the single currency since 1992) have seen increasing Euro-skepticism, and the successes of Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party in the 2015 election bears testimony to British people’s uneasiness in their relationship with EU.

Those who campaigned to leave, led by Boris Johnson, had strong arguments and opinions.

These arguments, among others, include the following:

That the EU threatens British sovereignty since it has assumed a significant amount of power from individual member states. In short, the central EU bureaucracy in Brussels has become too powerful;
EU rules on competition policy, agriculture, copyright and patents override national laws;
The EU is not directly accountable to British voters;
The EU is strangling the UK with burdensome regulations;
The EU allows too many immigrants, negatively impacting on British jobs (a very sensitive issue);
The Euro is a disaster, especially as shown by the 2008 global recession and its aftermath; and
The UK could keep the money it currently sends to the EU.

Implications for Africa

It is difficult to give a correct and confident prognosis regarding the implications of this event on Africa and Zimbabwe’s relationships with the EU and Britain.

However, a few issues can be highlighted.

EU-Africa relations have been defined by the historical colonial ties that bind them and attempts to undo some of the present effects of colonialism on especially Sub-Saharan African states.

The Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) bloc has had a special relationship with the EU since 1963.

Presently, the EU and some ACP countries and regional economic communities are negotiating or implementing economic partnership agreements under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement.

However, with the British exit from the EU, a number of implications can be expected.

Firstly, according to an article by Amadou Sy of the Brookings Institution, the UK is one of the biggest contributors to the European Development Fund — the EU’s development assistance arm — which provides funds to developing countries.

The UK contributes between 400 and 585 million pounds, about 14,8 percent of contributions.

This gap may not be easy to fill, and this can have negative implications for Europe’s development assistance efforts, especially in Africa’s least developed countries.

Secondly, the British have been the most vocal critics of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which continues to give European farmers with significant subsidies.

This has negatively affected African farmers’ competitiveness.

Their market share in Europe is reduced since the trading field is not level and such subsidies are actually a trade distorting measure, or simply a non-tariff barrier to trade.

This defeats the spirit of free trade championed by the EPAs and by the World Trade Organisation.

Thus, without a party to effectively voice their concerns in the EU, African states cannot expect significant reforms there.

Thirdly, EPAs with African countries and regional economic communities would have to be renegotiated since within the EU, the UK is one of Africa’s largest trading partners.

This obviously will be a painstaking process since other regions and countries have already signed interim EPAs with the EU. Fourthly, there fear is that British assistance to Africa may be limited in quantity and geographical spread.

Those African countries which appear to serve British interests better could be the main recipients of such aid.

Relatedly, a major concern is that Cameron’s departure may usher in a leadership that relegates African issues to the periphery, leading to reduced development and security assistance to the continent.

Fifthly, as a result of this decision, we may soon see movements towards the establishment of British-Africa strategic co-operation framework modelled along the lines of China’s Focac or Japan’s Ticad.

This may have the advantage of better co-ordination and engagement between the two parties, different from the ceremonial Commonwealth.

Implications for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s relations with both the EU and Britain have been strained since the turn of the century. The centre of this troubled relationship is the Land Reform Programme implemented with the goal of correcting a colonial injustice evident in skewed land ownership patterns favouring whites before 2000.

Zimbabwe further accuses Britain of internationalising a bilateral dispute between the two parties, leading to the imposition of sanctions and/restrictive measures. Britain’s and the EU’ s view is that the Zanu-PF Government has used State-backed political violence against opposition political parties and civil society, in addition to rigging elections and failure to respect basic human rights and the rule of law.

Against the background of Britain’s exit from the EU, no policy change should be expected from either Britain or the EU on Zimbabwe. The same issues remain on the table in the view of both sides.

Thus, the EU’s position of gradually softening stance and removing entities and individuals from the sanctions list since 2014 will continue to guide British policy towards Zimbabwe going into the future.

On the economic side, if the pulling out of Britain from the EU is going to force a renegotiation of EPAs, then Zimbabwe will not be spared. Zimbabwe is negotiating EPAs in the Eastern and Southern Africa grouping.

Having already initialled the interim-EPA in 2009, Zimbabwe is in the process of opening its market to the EU, although excluding certain sensitive products like cereals, textiles and clothing, ceramics, plastics and vehicles.

The implication is that Zimbabwe stands to lose duty-free and quota-free access to the British market for products covered by EPAs.

This means if Zimbabwe is to have preferential treatment maintained, a bilateral trade arrangement, which is compliant with World Trade Organisation principles would have to be hammered out.

This could be a cumbersome process that may also be “negatively” affected by the sticky political issues referred to above, notwithstanding the gradual softening of positions by both parties.

Lastly, in the foreseeable future, Zimbabwe’s economic relations with the EU will not change as a result of British exit from the Union.

The union “may” have a slightly reduced EDF as intimated above and that EPAs will no longer include Britain, but Zimbabwe and the EU will continue their normal and existing engagements.

The reciprocal access to each other’s markets by both parties will continue during the tenure of EPAs; in other words until 2022.

Mr Ronald Chipaike lectures International Relations at Bindura University of Science Education. His main research interest is Africa’s engagement with emerging powers. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail.

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