South Africa, EU tackle Libya, trade issues at summit
South Africa and the European Union were set to hold a summit Thursday in one of Africa's biggest game reserves, tackling differences over Libya and Zimbabwe, while looking to revive stalled trade talks.
South African President Jacob Zuma and EU President Herman van Rompuy were due to meet in the rest camp of Skukuza inside Kruger National Park, famous for its herds of elephants and other big game.
European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht was also attending, after a swing through Namibia where he said some “misunderstandings” about the long-stalled trade pact had been cleared.
Seven southern African nations and the European Union have discussed a so-called Economic Partnership Agreement — basically a free trade deal — for years.
Officially South Africa won’t negotiate on behalf of its neighbours, but as the biggest economy on the continent, it carries the most weight.
Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland already have a customs union with South Africa. Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer, and Mozambique have joined with them to negotiate a common trade deal with the EU.
The talks have dragged for years, with South Africa preferring to seal a regional deal rather than have individual nations negotiating on their own.
Zuma’s meeting with the Europeans came one day after he hosted talks for the African Union’s panel on Libya, which has become the biggest diplomatic hurdle between South Africa and the West.
While the leaders of Britain and France were in Tripoli on Thursday to meet with Libya’s new leadership, the African Union has so far refused to recognise them, despite the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.
After the AU meeting late Wednesday, the panel reiterated its call for “an inclusive national unity government” in Libya, but has yet to spell out exactly what that means.
Zuma has repeatedly criticised the NATO bombing campaign in Libya. South Africa voted for the UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone over the country, but accuses NATO of overstepping its mandate.
The summit was also expected to look at the situation in Zimbabwe, where South Africa three years ago brokered the deal that created the power-sharing government between veteran ruler Robert Mugabe and his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
South Africa has taken up Mugabe’s call for Western nations to lift the travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo imposed against him and his inner circle over a series of flawed elections marred by deadly violence during the last decade.
Pretoria argues that lifting the sanctions would shore up the fragile unity government and show that the West is not playing favourites in Harare.
Leaders at the summit were also expected to discuss the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, due to run between November 28 and December 9.
The EU has financed the talks to the tune of six million euros. A central debate in Durban will be whether nations negotiate new commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and how the world should divide that effort among rich and developing nations.
Despite South Africa’s economic might on the continent, it remains a major beneficiary of European aid, notably a 126-million-euro grant to the health ministry to bolster the public health system, especially in the fight against AIDS and tuberculosis.
During 2007-2013, South Africa is set to receive 980 million euros from the EU, or an average of 140 million euros a year.