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Trade Concerns, Mugabe Dominate Preparations for EU-Africa Summit


Concerns over trade deals and the expected presence of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe have dominated preparations for this weekend's European Union-Africa Union summit. As VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar, Senegal has been trying to play a lead role on both issues.

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade tried to mediate between Britain and Zimbabwe last month, but the situation appears unchanged - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe will attend the December 8 and 9 summit in Lisbon, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not.

Mr. Brown is protesting Mr. Mugabe's alleged abuse of power, human rights violations, and repeatedly botched elections during his post-independence rule. Mr. Mugabe is being given an exception to E.U. sanctions on travel to Europe by Zimbabwe government and ruling party officials.

Paul Simon Hindy from the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies thinks the summit can still be relevant, despite the British protest.

"I do not think that it will be overshadowed," said Hindy. "The other issues are more important, like the economic partnership agreements. We still do not know if these agreements are to be signed or not, and if on January first 2008, they are going to be signed."

The World Trade Organization has ruled existing trade agreements giving preferential market access to former European colonies have to be replaced by the end of the year.

President Wade says his country will not sign a new trade pact proposed by the European Union for poor African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations, known collectively as ACP.

Economists say the new agreement would require ACP countries to gradually open their markets to European goods in exchange for open access to European markets, with the exception of rice and sugar.

Faced with opposition from Senegal and other major countries like Nigeria and South Africa, the European Union has been trying to negotiate individual deals.

On a recent visit to Senegal, Portugal's Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Luis Amado said Europe wants to move toward new types of partnership with Africa, devoid of aid dependence and post-colonial overtones.

He stressed Europe wants to invest in Africa's infrastructure, especially its energy sector.

Senegal's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, said even though India, China, and Brazil are all becoming more interested in Africa, Europe is still the continent's main economic partner.

He said Africa has a third of the world's natural resources and one billion people, and for it to use that strength in globalization during the next 15 to 20 years it needs to have a united presence at such summits.

Another topic will be stemming the dangerous flow of illegal immigrants from unemployment-plagued Africa to Europe.

Wednesday the trend continued as the bodies of three men were found aboard two boats carrying more than 90 migrants washed up on the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife, after departing last month from the shores of Mauritania.

Drawn-out conflicts in Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Niger, Mali, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia are also expected to be discussed.