Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The story behind Africa's free trade dream



A security personnel stands by a sculpture representing the African continent, before the start of the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU), in the entrance hall of the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on January 27, 2018Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAfrica is hoping to create a free trade area stretching across the continent

The European Union and its free trade agreement took decades to establish. Africa is now hoping it can achieve the same in a fraction of the time.
But with Nigeria pulling out, questions are being raised over just how achievable it really is.
The vision is a free trade deal encompassing 1.2 billion people stretching from Cape Town to Cairo.
Goods, services and perhaps labour, flowing freely in and out of more than 50 African countries.
It could create tens of thousands of jobs and significantly reduce unemployment among the continent's youthful population.
It'll boost trade between African countries and would be instrumental in moving the whole continent away from the narrative of simply being a place where the powerhouse economies of the West and East come to get their raw materials.

Fears

Many African governments, naturally, are keen. So, expect lots of fanfare when African leaders gather in the Rwandan capital, Kigali this week to sign the agreement.
The South African department of trade and industry says it's "committed to a co-ordinated strategy to boost intra-Africa trade and to build an integrated market in Africa that will see a market of over a billion people with a GDP of approximately $2.6 trillion (£1.85tn) ".
And Kenya's trade ministry says it'll not only create a massive liberalised market, but will also "enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level, enhance value addition of products and exploit economies of scale and optimum utilization of resource".
But the deal has already hit its first hurdle, before it's even been signed.


A family at the market in CairoImage copyrightAFP
Image captionIf they can get an agreement, it would mean people from the markets of Cairo...

Nigeria announced at the weekend that President Muhammadu Buhari will not attend the ceremony in Kigali. In a statement, the Nigerian government said that "certain key stakeholders in Nigeria indicated that they had not been consulted, for which reasons they had some concerns on the provisions of the treaty".
Those key stakeholders are both Nigeria's business community and its trade unions. The trade unions are thought to be particularly concerned about a free trade area, given that it could develop into a much more integrated body, which would see the free movement of workers across borders, providing a possible threat to Nigerian jobs.
The fact that Africa's largest economy won't be at the launch has placed a dampener on proceedings and a question mark over the entire project's viability.
Even if all parties do eventually agree to sign a free trade treaty, that is simply where the real work begins. After the ink dries and the officials have all gone home, how quickly can such an agreement to put into practice? When will it make a difference on the ground? Until a business can move its goods from any country in the Free Trade Area to any another almost as if borders don't exist the proclamations on paper will count for very little.
Under a free trade area agreement, all the African signatory countries would have to agree to reduce the trade tariffs and import quotas between each other and boost intra-African trade.


A woman buys a drink from the hipster coffee store 'House of Machines' on March 31, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.Image copyrightAFP
Image caption... could trade with cafes in Cape Town...

Generally speaking, it's the first stage of closer economic co-operation with a view to possible integration. The next stage would be a customs union, where each country would have the same tariffs with the outside world and low or no tariffs between each other.
Then comes a common market, where goods, services and labour move tariff and quota-free between the countries and the bloc has a common trade relationship with the rest of the globe. Further integration involves political union and a unifying single currency.

A big ask

All of this took the European Union more than 50 years to establish following the Second World War. Some integration already exists in Africa - the East African Community and the Southern Africa Customs Union are examples.
But for a continent-wide free trade area to really work there has to be significantly more cross-border trade within Africa. This is currently a challenge, as most African countries tend to trade more with the outside world than they do with their fellow African states. Indeed, intra-African trade accounts for about 16% of the total - in Asia that figure is 51% and in Europe it rises to 70%.
Another challenge is the sheer size of Africa - not just geographically, but also in terms of the number of countries that need to sign up and ratify the free trade area agreement. When the European integration process started in the early 1950s, just six countries were involved.


Construction workers building a railwayImage copyrightAFP
Image caption... and construction workers in Dakar thanks to the free movement of goods and services

More than 60 years later, the European Union has 28 members. Africa has 54 countries. So, implementation and co-ordination are key. For a start, the parliaments of the all the countries need to ratify it. How long those political wheels take to turn is anybody's guess.
The African Free Trade Area is a big task and, in a way, a big ask. But if it's the first tentative steps toward greater economic ties and trade within Africa, the continent's citizens will feel its benefits.
How quickly that happens depends on the enduring enthusiasm, focus and determination of the leaders who pen the deal.

Monday, 19 March 2018

French consulate worker 'smuggled arms from Gaza'


Hamas militants in Gaza (file photo)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe man is suspected of having smuggled weapons from Gaza to the West Bank
A French national employed at the country's consulate in Jerusalem will appear in court on Monday charged with smuggling weapons from the Gaza Strip.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency said the unnamed man, in his 20s, was arrested in February at the Erez border crossing.
One of the suspect's jobs at the consulate was as a driver, involving regular trips to Gaza, reports say.
Israel has long tried to prevent arms reaching Palestinian militants.
A spokesman for the French embassy in Tel Aviv told AFP news agency: "We take this case very seriously and are in close contact with the Israeli authorities."
Shin Bet said the suspect had smuggled more than 70 pistols and two assault rifles from Gaza into the West Bank over a period of five trips. It said he used a consulate vehicle to elude detection.
Hamas has fought three conflicts with Israel and carried out thousands of rocket and bombings against it.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent weapons smuggling and attacks by militants.

BOMBSHELL: British Scientists Balked at Pressure to Link Nerve Gas to Russia


"It is very carefully worded propaganda. Of a type developed by liars."
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The author is a former senior British diplomat and ambassador to Uzbekistan.



I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO (UK Foreign Ministry) source that Porton Down (Ministry of Defense science laboratory) scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so.
Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation. The Russians were allegedly researching, in the “Novichok” programme a generation of nerve agents which could be produced from commercially available precursors such as insecticides and fertilisers. This substance is a “novichok” in that sense. It is of that type. Just as I am typing on a laptop of a type developed by the United States, though this one was made in China.
To anybody with a Whitehall (government) background this has been obvious for several days. The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was used by Theresa May in parliament, used by the UK at the UN Security Council, used by Boris Johnson on the BBC yesterday and, most tellingly of all, “of a type developed by Russia” is the precise phrase used in the joint communique issued by the UK, USA, France and Germany yesterday:
This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.
When the same extremely careful phrasing is never deviated from, you know it is the result of a very delicate Whitehall compromise. My FCO source, like me, remembers the extreme pressure put on FCO staff and other civil servants to sign off the dirty dossier on Iraqi WMD, some of which pressure I recount in my memoir Murder in Samarkand. She volunteered the comparison to what is happening now, particularly at Porton Down, with no prompting from me.
Separately I have written to the media office at OPCW to ask them to confirm that there has never been any physical evidence of the existence of Russian Novichoks, and the programme of inspection and destruction of Russian chemical weapons was completed last year.
Did you know these interesting facts?
OPCW inspectors have had full access to all known Russian chemical weapons facilities for over a decade – including those identified by the “Novichok” alleged whistleblower Mirzayanov – and last year OPCW inspectors completed the destruction of the last of 40,000 tonnes of Russian chemical weapons
By contrast the programme of destruction of US chemical weapons stocks still has five years to run
Israel has extensive stocks of chemical weapons but has always refused to declare any of them to the OPCW. Israel is not a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention nor a member of the OPCW. Israel signed in 1993 but refused to ratify as this would mean inspection and destruction of its chemical weapons. Israel undoubtedly has as much technical capacity as any state to synthesise “Novichoks”.
Until this week, the near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research programme which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesising and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.
Porton Down is still not certain it is the Russians who have apparently synthesised a “Novichok”. Hence “Of a type developed by Russia”. Note developed, not made, produced or manufactured.
It is very carefully worded propaganda. Of a type developed by liars.
UPDATE
This post prompted another old colleague to get in touch. On the bright side, the FCO have persuaded Boris he has to let the OPCW investigate a sample. But not just yet. The expectation is the inquiry committee will be chaired by a Chinese delegate. The Boris plan is to get the OPCW also to sign up to the “as developed by Russia” formula, and diplomacy to this end is being undertaken in Beijing right now.
I don’t suppose there is any sign of the BBC doing any actual journalism on this?

WhatsApp discovers 'targeted' surveillance attack

Dave Lee North America technology reporter 6 hours ago Share this with Facebook   Share this with Messenger   Share t...