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This is an extremely interesting and sensible idea that is certainly worth exploring. In many ways the policy sounds like the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) currently being negotiated between the EU and groups of ACP states writ large. The most positive aspect of EPAs, quite apart from improving the trading opportunities of ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) states with the EU is, of course, the encouragement in the agreements for collections of poorer states to work together to harmonize industrial, agricultural etc regulations - very similar to Andrew Mitchell's suggestion.

A free trade zone could be of great benefit to Africa. However there is one big technicality to overcome.

African governments have a hard time raising money from taxes. (subsistence farming is not taxable). Tariffs are a major source of revenue. So we need to offer them incentives, if we want to get this idea off the ground.

Serf: perhaps the best incentive would be mutual funds hoilding assets in various African companies? Then they'd have every reason to open the throttle on the economy.

Heck, generalize it: lets pay our own politicians in FTSE-linked funds.

The most essential precursor to trade - much less free trade - is enforceable property rights. That was the basis of Western prosperity and stable government. The former leads to a property-owing class which then provides a tax base which governments can exploit.

Essential and welcome though Mitchell's suggestions is, therefore, it is downstream - a bit like recommending new decor for a burning building, without first putting out the fire.


You are largely correct. The "tariffs" at the borders are also a major source of income for the bureaucrats personally, whose livelihood often depends on being able to extract payments from exporters/importers.

The most essential precursor to trade - much less free trade - is enforceable property rights.

A very good point and one for which, thankfully there is a solution.

Surely, one of the most essential precursors to progress in Africa is the removal of the numerous corrupt Governments. Any other changes will just see yet more money poured down the drain to salve Western consciences rather than improving the lot of the African peoples.

Instead of free trade for Africa, how about free trade for the world? Cease this creation of regional trading fortresses and allow everyone to benefit from cheaper goods and greater competition.

Agreed Richard, but free trade for Africa would surely be a stepping stone towards that.

This is One of the most sensiable and encouraging blog exchanges in ages. Breaking into the world of development NGO's is going to be difficult, they are not natural purveyors of Conservative ideas, but given the failure of so many statist approaches, people from de Soto to Mitchell stand a chance of making a difference!

I agree. Left-leaning ideas have dominated the development NGO world for far too long, but the picture is changing. There is a real opportunity for us to engage in a positive way, for instance by championing the adoption of microfinance and 'bottom-up' development, and by supporting the adoption of more liberal free trade policies by developing countries. See the Globalisation Institute website for statistics which show - pace Barbara Stocking of Oxfam - that it is the developing countries themselves which have most to gain from the liberalisation of agriculture and the abolition of government subsidies and import protection. I saw at first hand the effects of government control, fixed prices and centralised distribution in Nyerere's Tanzania where I lived for 3 years and it was an economic disaster. We need to enter the debate in a positive and reasoned way without resorting to negative comments such as 'money down the
drain' and 'they're all corrupt'.

I've now uploaded a PDF of Andrew Mitchell's full speech and link to today's failure of the WTO talks. Peter Mandelson was just on Radio 4 PM blasting the Americans and the NGO community in an incredibly aggressive way. Another great Blair appointment.

Oh dear. This is not going to please johnC but Iain C (any relation?) is entirely right. If you have ever been through an African border post, you will know that the last thing on the mind of the "officers" is collecting tariffs to be handed over to the government! This proposal is just another starry-eyed solution to an intractable problem and is an excellent example of the modern world's reversal of Pliny's epithet: Semper aliquid novi in Africam.

Trade not aid!

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