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Anti-Poverty Group Questions Europe's Free Trade Deals with Africa

Britain's finance minister Gordon Brown is in Africa to launch his government's plans to alleviate poverty during Prime Minister Tony Blair's presidency of the G8. Mr. Brown will also promote plans for aid, debt relief, and the scrapping of trade barriers. His six-day tour includes Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. However, the London-based group ActionAid says Mr. Brown's effort to lift Africa out of poverty will fail unless the British government leads a revolt against free trade plans, which will open African markets to cheaper subsidized goods from European competitors.

ActionAid’s trade policy officer, Tom Sharman, says the new trade agreements are being pushed on Africa by the European Union. Mr. Sharman told VOA reporter William Eagle that under these deals, Kenya’s sugar industry is likely to lose 100 thousand jobs, and 150 million dollars worth of taxes to the Kenyan government; in Ghana, he says the country’s tomato industry could lose half a million jobs. ActionAid wants African governments to be given the right to protect their new industries, just as South Korea and Taiwan were allowed to protect theirs until they were able to compete on the international market.

Critics say aid should not be given to countries whose governments are corrupt and cannot handle aid flows. For example, Richard Dowden of the Royal African Society in London has said that over the past 50 years, Africa has received about one trillion dollars in aid (at today’s prices) and that if aid were the solution, Africa would be a rich continent by now. Mr. Sharman agrees that aid should be monitored, but he says ActionAid’s real concern is that in the past the West has attached what he calls "harmful conditions" to its financial support – like the forced privatization of utilities and cuts in public spending. He says these conditionalities have meant unaffordable cost increases for the poor.