New Summit Boosts Cooperation Between South America and Africa

  (IPS) – Heads of state and other officials from 54 African and 12 South American nations will meet for the Second Africa-South America Summit this Saturday and Sunday on Isla Margarita, Venezuela, to boost cooperation in a score of areas with potential for greater bi-regional exchange.

Africa "has linked up as a region and has sought cooperation collectively, mostly with the European Union, but in recent years also with China, India, Russia, Iran and, of course, South America, where it is finding open doors because of the new progressive governments," Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister for Africa, Reinaldo Bolívar, told IPS.

So far "North-North and North-South summits have been held, but apart from the Summits of South American-Arab Countries in 2005 and 2009, the Africa-South America meetings are the only South-South summits taking place in the world," Bolívar underlined.

The first Africa-South America summit was held in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, in November 2006 and adopted a 45-point declaration on generally agreed principles.

The issues covered by the Abuja declaration ranged from calling for reform at the United Nations, to commitments to educate men and teenage boys about the rights of women and girls, as well as commitments by South American countries to invest in Africa and assist in agricultural development and the alleviation of hunger.

A follow-up committee was established, made up of the Abuja and Margarita co-chairs (Nigeria, Brazil, Venezuela) with the assistance of the African Union Commission and the Secretariat of the South American Nations (UNASUR). Eight sector-specific working groups were set up, and meetings were arranged between officials from the two regional groupings, although the schedule was only partially fulfilled.

The working groups, which convey an idea of the potential for exchange and cooperation envisaged by African and South American nations, are: trade, investment and tourism, in the charge of Morocco and Venezuela; infrastructure, transport, mining and energy, led by Brazil and Nigeria; and peace and security issues, entrusted to Argentina and Libya.

Agriculture and the environment is under the responsibility of Guyana and Uganda; education and culture was assigned to Senegal and Venezuela; social affairs and sports to Paraguay and Namibia; science, technology and communications to Brazil and Cameroon; and institution-building and public administration to Cameroon and Chile.

Bolívar said the documents compiled by the working groups will contribute to the Margarita Declaration, which will provide a framework to promote sectoral, bi-national and sub-regional agreements, while the heads of state and government will debate current political issues and the global economic crisis.

Trade and energy

The three South American countries that have developed the strongest relationships with Africa so far this decade are Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, all located on the Atlantic seaboard.

Brazil’s trade with Africa, consisting mainly of sales of food products and manufactured goods, rose from five billion dollars in 2002 to nearly 26 billion dollars in 2008. It already represents seven percent of the country’s total foreign trade, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade.

Since Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office in 2003, his country has invested over four billion dollars in agriculture in Africa, and he has invited his African partners to plant crops and receive training for biofuel production.

Argentina, 3.5 percent of whose total foreign trade is with Africa, sells more than three billion dollars a year to South Africa, Angola and countries in North Africa. It has a trade surplus with the continent, having sold over two billion dollars in farm commodities, mainly soybeans, oils, cereals and dairy products.

But the Argentine newspaper Página/12 reported a study undertaken by the South African embassy in Buenos Aires, which concluded that the African country could supply Argentina with a range of 25,000 products if Argentina switched suppliers in its favour.

Venezuela’s trade with Africa is minimal, because its chief export is oil, which is increasingly being discovered in Africa, while it imports machinery, equipment and foods, mainly from suppliers in the Americas.

However, Venezuela, a co-founder of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) which also includes the African nations of Algeria, Angola, Libya and Nigeria, has opened its doors for Algerian and South African firms to participate in exploration for gas and crude in its territory, while Pretoria has invited Caracas to participate in developing a refinery and fuel storage facilities.

Political timing

At the Abuja summit in 2006, then South African president Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008) said that "there are historic links" between the countries of UNASUR and the African Union. "Both have endured the system of colonialism which was characterised by exploitation, slavery and abuse," he said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is hosting the Isla Margarita summit, said "there is a natural alliance" between Africans and South Americans "which should be decisively strengthened in practical ways. We share common problems, which have the same causes and roots."

"As a result of this summit, we want Caracas to become an arrival point and a centre of activities and connections with Africa," Chávez said.

Bolívar pointed out that Caracas increased the number of its embassies in Africa from seven to 18 in the past 10 years, and arranged for each of them to cover two other capitals, so that it has diplomatic ties with all 54 African countries.

President Lula of Brazil has proposed an agricultural and energy alliance with Africa, as well as the adoption of a unified position, within the framework of the United Nations, on the extraction of undersea wealth in the South Atlantic ocean.

Brazil has the second largest black population in the world, after Nigeria. "This deeply influences our culture and we want to turn that (bond) into practical reality," said Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) have established a forum for dialogue to construct a new alliance between three important democracies of the South, strengthen their economic relations, embark on cooperation with third countries – initial programmes are with Cape Verde and Haiti – and join forces to campaign for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Bolívar said "about 30" heads of state and government would be coming to the bi-regional meeting, most of them before or after participating in the U.N. General Assembly. But he declined to list them, because "it has been agreed that each government will announce how it will be represented" at the Margarita summit.

Chávez said that participants would include Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who occupies the rotating position of chair of the African Union.

This week, cultural events are opening to the public in Caracas in preparation for the Africa-South America Summit.