This is what a fair and sustainable Africa strategy looks like
Minister Liesje Schreinemacher for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation recently made her first working visit, to Kenya and Uganda. With this visit, the minister made a flying start in honouring the pledge in the new government's coalition agreement to formulate a 'targeted Dutch Africa strategy'. Such a strategy is desperately needed as, too often, our foreign trade is conducted at the expense of people and the environment, including in countries in Africa. The new strategy presents a perfect opportunity to ensure that the 'trade and aid' agendas are closely aligned.
Africa is high on the political agenda, and with good reason. Dutch companies are active on the continent in agriculture, horticulture, water management, infrastructure and the energy sector. The Netherlands has invested in relations with Africa countries for many years and its new Africa strategy offers the chance to contribute to sustainability. But the strategy must not forget the most important ingredient: fair trade relations that promote equal opportunities and which are in line with our ambitions in the field of human rights, the environment and climate. That means that a number of difficult choices will have to be made. As yet, our government still devotes insufficient attention to the negative effects of its extensive support to all that economic activity on people, their living environment and the climate.
The Netherlands has signed trade and investment agreements with many countries on the African continent that aim to bring economic progress, employment and prosperity to both parties. In practice, however, they often achieve the opposite. Local farmers and producers in African countries are pushed out of the market by our cheap and non-sustainable products. We sell them cheap chicken that is unmarketable in the Netherlands and semi-skimmed milk powder that is made into 'skimmed' powder by adding palm oil – most probably from oil plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia or even Liberia on land that was once rainforest. Consequently, farmers in Africa cannot get a fair and realistic price for their products. In addition, trade and investment agreements are often drafted in such a way that African countries have little other choice than to export their natural resources at high speed and at unfavourable terms, rather than deciding for themselves how to process them into end products. It is time for trade and investment agreements that, instead of suffocating local food production and manufacturing industries, protect them and allows them sufficient space to develop.
These unequal trade and investment relations are also kept in place by subsidies and other forms of export support. This government's support for large-scale agriculture and infrastructure projects and for fossil industries causes pollution of water resources, forces farmers from the most fertile land, undermines local food production and obstructs access to energy and food security. Our subsidies and export support can be better used for sustainable activities that promote access to sustainable energy, the recovery of ecosystems and the development of green infrastructure and local industries on the African continent.
Now that the Netherlands has committed itself in Glasgow to putting a stop to its extensive support for our fossil companies, there is an opportunity to make that move towards sustainability. The reality is that, even in a large oil-producing country like Nigeria, 43% of people have no access to electricity. The solution lies in renewable energy; research has shown that solar and wind energy produced in small-scale, independent electricity networks, is the most effective, affordable and sustainable solution for remote areas that have no access to the national electricity network. In addition, renewable energy generates more employment than fossil energy. That is what Dutch companies should invest in, with the support of our government.
There are opportunities aplenty to produce a truly sustainable and fair Africa strategy. A strategy that no longer supports Dutch trade and investment in fossil industries and in harmful agriculture, but focuses on trade relations that make the food and energy sectors in Africa more sustainable and accessible to people in Africa itself. A strategy in which knowledge exchange is encouraged on both sides and in which local populations decide for themselves and genuinely benefit from trade and investment relations with the Netherlands. A hopeful task for Minister Schreinemacher!
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