By Rick Rowden

Africans are insisting on actual economic development which is leaving European trade negotiators exasperated. Rick Rowden explains why their stand is historic and right. This article was published in The Mint (Issue 1, Spring 2017). In one of the most under-reported major stories coming out of Africa, the dominant idea that “free trade” is the best development strategy for poor countries is being given its most thorough trouncing in decades.

By rejecting proposed free trade deals with the European Union (EU), one of Africa’s largest oil producers, Nigeria, and one of the continent’s fastest growing economies, Tanzania, have poked the eye of the entire EU – not to mention Thatcher, Reagan, the Bretton Woods institutions and nearly every free market economist from New Delhi to New York. And yet this incredible story has received very little press coverage outside the continent.

Both countries have dug their heels in by consistently refusing to sign on to proposed deals known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which have been in the works for well over a decade. Although most exporters from African countries already have preferential duty-free access into the EU market, the new EPAs would gradually give similar tariff-free access to EU exports into African markets.

While Nigeria has opposed the EPA for the Economic Community of West African States for many years, Tanzania’s new government under John Magafuli surprised many last summer with a last-minute decision to back away from the EPA for the East African Community (EAC) region.

Both countries have recently adopted ambitious plans for industrialisation. And the presidents, trade ministries and national manufacturing associations of both countries have all made it clear they are rejecting the EPAs with the EU explicitly because of concerns that the rules and restrictions within the proposed agreements would undermine their new industrialization strategies.

The most remarkable rejection of free trade you've never heard of