The European Union (EU) is the least concerned by the euphoria over Africa?s affinity with the emerging super power of China. This week, EU spokesperson, Ambassador Paul Malin, parried away any insinuations of the Union?s uneasiness about the new found economic romance between Africa and China. In recent times, China has been dolling out soft loans to Africa, with less care about neither human rights record nor good governance ? subjects that are important to the West, when financially assisting African countries.
?Africa should be opening up to trade for her own economic prosperity and it is only normal that it should be trading with China,? he said when fielding questions from The Sunday Standard. ?But I don?t think China can contribute more finance to Africa than Europe, if you look at the trade statistics ? African countries are doing the bulk of their trade with Europe. Even middle income countries like Botswana would not benefit more, financially, by doing trade with China.?
Malin said 56 percent of the world?s official development assistance is provided by the EU and its member states. Official statistics show that the EU is the largest trading partner of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The value of the total EU imports is estimated to be above 5 billion euros, the dominating components being diamonds, mostly from Botswana, petroleum (Angola), fish and beef (Namibia) and sugar and tobacco, exported largely by Swaziland. The SADC group has yielded positive trade balance in the past few years.
?We would like to make our cooperation with Botswana better known,? he told press members this week in Gaborone.
He said the highlight of Europe?s support for human development in the country would be the opening of the Francistown Technical College this year, to which the EU has contributed 15 million euros (P120 million). Apart from the Francistown institution, Malin said some of the visible examples are support for institutions such as the Gaborone Technical College and Automotive Trades Technical College. Most of the support, he claimed, goes directly to the government budget through a 50 million euro (P400 million) project to increase the quality and access of education and training.
?I will next week sign a contract together with government for P80 million for infrastructure in the Moremi Game Reserve, with Europe?s contribution standing above 50 percent, at P43 million.
?This will complement the support already given to Chobe and the Central Kalahari,? Malin catalogued the financial support the block extended to the country. He added that Botswana would still look up to Europe and not China, as the preferred financial partner in the development of the Mmamabula Energy Project. Already, he said, the EU has assisted the mining industry, in the country with firms such as BCL and Tati benefiting to the tune of 30 million euros (P240 million).
?As taxpayers, you might find our support to tax collection through the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) a less comfortable example.?
Of the 19 percent increment in revenue collection ? 5 percent above the target ? that was recently announced in the budget speech by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Baledzi Gaolathe, Malin claims a stake in the increment.
?We can see that we are being effective in assisting an increase in the tax base,? he said.
Malin further claimed unparalleled involvement of the EU at the regional level in the development of roads, ports and railways, saying as the movement of people and goods become easier in the region, the support given to trade, customs, investment and food safety would become more visible. To tighten the relationship of SADC member states, for the first time last week, EU finally agreed to include South Africa in the group of SADC states with which the EU is negotiating an economic partnership agreement.