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President Sarkozy urges revamped trade ties at Africa-France Summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday brought a number of new proposals to boost business ties with Africa during the 25th Africa-France Summit in Nice, France.

By Staff writer, Scott BaldaufStaff writer / June 1, 2010

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy (r.) hugs Cameroon's President Paul Biya while South Africa's President Jacob Zuma (l.) leaves the final news conference of the Africa-France Summit in Nice, Tuesday.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters

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Paris; and Johannesburg, South Africa

At the opening of the 25th France-Africa Summit in Nice, France on Monday, French President Nicholas Sarkozy unveiled plans to improve France’s often troubled but powerful relationship with its many former French colonies.

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Mr. Sarkozy reiterated France’s longtime support for giving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to an African state, and also for an African country or country's to join the Group of 20, the club of the world’s most powerful economic nations.

“Africa is our future … the African continent is asserting itself more and more as a major player in international life," said Sarkozy. "We cannot govern a 21-century world with a 20-century institution.”

Since taking power in May 2007, Sarkozy has declared a “rupture” with past French policy, which had long preserved a paternalistic role for France towards the dozens of French-speaking former colonies in Africa. Today, Sarkozy says it is in France’s interests to change that relationship into one of equal partners.

"I am deeply convinced that it is no longer possible to discuss major world issues without the presence of Africa," Sarkozy said in an opening speech at the summit.

Focus on business

The meeting – attended for the first time by some 230 French and African business groups – is focused on strengthening mutual business interests.

Fifty years ago, 40 percent of French trade was with Africa. Today the figure is closer to 2 percent.

At a time when Chinese and Indian investment is flooding into Africa, eager to buy up and develop Africa’s natural resources, France’s attempt to hold onto its influence is understandable.

French, American, and British companies still hold the lion’s share of African mineral contracts, but Chinese investment is fast catching up, developing new oilfields in Sudan and Angola, and revitalizing old copper mines in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and even buying up farmland across the continent to help meet the food needs of its growing population.

To simply hold onto their place, old powers like France have to get creative, and woo African leaders.

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