TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi warned the European Union Monday that Africa would turn to other trade partners if the EU continued to impose terms for cooperation.
Gaddafi’s warning, at an EU-Africa summit attended by senior European officials, echoed complaints from some other African leaders who say Europe is trying to make them open their borders to trade but not giving enough in return.
“Our choice now is to cooperate with our brothers in the European Union but if that cooperation fails, Africa has other choices,” Gaddafi said in opening remarks at the summit in Tripoli. “Let every country and every group govern itself. Every country is free to serve its own interests.”
“Africa can look to any other international bloc such as Latin America, China, India or Russia.”
A leaked internal document from the African Union this month showed some governments on the continent felt that trade deals being offered by the EU were one-sided.
It said the bloc was asking African countries to liberalize their economies to comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules but was not doing enough to help them develop their own economies.
“We do not benefit from the WTO and we call for its abolition,” Gaddafi said. “All its interests are in opening our borders for industrial goods and killing national industries in the Third World, so I call (on everybody) not to join it.”
The Libyan leader also took a swipe at the EU’s practice of linking economic assistance to African countries’ respect for human rights and good governance.
“We are not interested in political power. We want economic development,” he said. “What is the meaning of human rights? What is the meaning of good governance?”
In his own speech to the summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy defended the bloc’s policy on Africa.
”In a highly interdependent world economy, there are no easy recipes. But I am convinced that we can find ways of mutually beneficial cooperation, notably via the private sector.
“We need to transcend the state dependent economies which have performed so poorly over decades of development cooperation,” Van Rompuy said.
The EU, the world’s biggest trading zone, has for years been trying to hammer out free-trade deals, known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), with African countries.
But so far none of the five African regional groupings negotiating the EPAs with the EU has fully implemented an agreement. Some of those involved are saying if there is no breakthrough soon, the talks should be scrapped.
African Union Secretary-General Jean Ping, speaking at the summit in Tripoli, said the stalled agreements were “a vital issue which must be dealt with as soon as possible.”
Additional reporting by Ali Shuaib and Salah Sarrar in Tripoli; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton