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France's promising plan for Africa

May 12, 1980



The latest French-African summit meeting brought nearer a plan for African development of a regional sort that holds promise for various parts of an increasingly interrelated world. Note the economic cooperation agreement signed in March between the European Community (EC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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In the present instance, the idea would be to enlist the surplus funds of Arab oil producers in European projects to aid African countries struggling under high oil prices and other economic problems. It exemplifies France's vigorous and creative approach to seeking African security based not only on military means, such as France has provided in Zaire and elsewhere, but on the more fundamental stabilizing influence of sound national economies.

Naturally, such cooperative ventures are entered into with expectations of advantage for those directly involved. But, for best international results, the strengthening of regions and ties between regions should not work to the disadvantage of those outside them.

For example, an existing agreement for trade and aid between the EC and African nations (as well as other third-world countries) was improved in this respect when a new version went into effect this year. Under the original version of the Lome convention of 1975, EC countries were given tariff breaks on their exports to the developing countries in exchange for reductions in EC duties on goods from the developing countries. The United States and other countries, excluded from such "reverse preference" provisions, are happier with the new Lome II agreement, which omits the reverse preferences.

Both the US and Japan seem to have been rather pointedly left out of French President Giscard d'Estaing's long efforts to achieve the African development plan. We trust that, as it develops among Africans, Arabs, and Europeans, the interests of the rest of the world will be taken account of.

The appropriate attitude appeared to be expressed on another summit matter, the formation of a French "commonwealth" of French-speaking nations in Africa and elsewhere. Its prime mover, President Senghor of Senegal, said: "There is no question of setting up a community in opposition to the [British] commonwealth. It is our model."

Similarly, the "triangular" European- Arab-African development plan need not be in "opposition" to anyone -- except the Soviet or other would-be aggressive exploiters of African economic instability. Indeed, it appears to offer a practical arrangement for getting on with a piece of the job of development while the massive North-South negotiations continue under United Nations auspices.

The Arab states might well use some of their enormous profits to assist the development of nations close to their region. All would benefit from an Africa making a peaceful emergence into the developed world.