Following her participation in the panel of the webinar on SSEZs, co-produced on 28/09 by IPEMED, with AEZO and La Verticale AME Foundation, “For a Euro-African model of Special and Secured Economic Zones (SSEZs)”, Cécile BILLAUX, Head of Unit at the European Commission (DG INTPA), sheds light on the approach of the institution.
Interview with Alfred MIGNOT, AfricaPresse.Paris (APP)
@alfredmignot | @africa_presse
APP – Under President Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission is showing its willingness to build a more proactive partnership with Africa, with a more proactive approach towards the private sector. How is this new vision being implemented?
Cécile BILLAUX – Providing support to value chains and helping our African partners to develop their own production chains is a dimension of our development policy that is indeed increasingly directed towards the private sector, with the objective of supporting job creation and growth.
Today, we are at the beginning of a new phase of programming funds for the next seven years in terms of our international partnership. Every seven years, the European Union decides on its priorities in the field of development, i.e. how to spend its funds for this international partnership.
APP – On what principles is this seven-year projection of the European commitment to Africa based?
Cécile BILLAUX – We are in the process of developing the operating mode. Of course there will be points that can be adjusted, but we are setting the main strategic directions of our action: supporting employment and growth through the development of the African private sector in Africa, in order to offer work to young people, is an essential component of our political vision. In my unit, developing a thriving domestic private sector is our priority, as it is the basis for long-term economic development for our partners.
Another fundamental component of this vision, and really at the heart of the work of this new Commission, is the Green Deal. Our President, Ursula von der Leyen, has set us a high level of ambition in terms of the funds that must be devoted to green development.
This requirement also applies to the support of the private sector to ensure that from the outset, jobs are created with an inclusive vision of the opportunities of green growth, but also in compliance with European standards, particularly environmental standards, based on international conventions, which will also allow companies to have a more solid base and to better withstand shocks, as we saw at the height of the pandemic.
In addition to the issue of green development, we also care about social and inclusion issues, respecting international labor standards… For example, we want to eradicate forms of labor such as child labor, or forced labor, in fact any work that does not respect international standards.
We also want to support young entrepreneurs, because there is on the African continent a dynamism and a will to undertake on which we must really try to capitalize our efforts.
APP – You participated this Tuesday 28th in the high level panel of the SSEZswebinar, organized by IPEMED, AEZO and La Verticale AME. What did you think of the Report on the subject, which served as the basis for the exchanges?
Cécile BILLAUX – The central proposal of the Report, to think about a revisited special economic zone model to better meet the needs and expectations of Africa, seems to me to be very relevant, because the advantages and potential of SEZs for African countries are very clear. At the same time, there are risks that should not be overlooked.
So thinking about a model that could take more account of support for the private sector – with this green dimension and respect for labor standards that I mentioned – seems to me to be judicious, because it allows us to see what type of specific model might be suitable for Africans. Of course, this must be done with the Africans and the economic actors, all together.
In this context, we must also think about minimizing the impact that SEZs could have on the mobilization of domestic revenues at a time when the continental free trade zone is being set up and could also reduce these revenues, initially, with the lowering of customs tariffs.
APP – What do you think of the proposal put forward in the Report to create a joint EU-AU laboratory on SSEZs?
Cécile BILLAUX – In concrete terms, on the basis of this study, I think we are quite ready to continue this reflection beyond the seminar, and see how to put it into practice.
In fact, in parallel to the Europe-Africa political summit that will be held under the French presidency next February, my unit is organizing the Business Summit, which will allow us to develop topics that are important to the private sector, both in Africa and in Europe. And we could consider doing a follow up on the basis of the main recommendations of the study, and in particular on this common laboratory of reflection.
So, as a concrete proposal for a next step, I think that, within the framework of the EU Africa Business Forum (EABF), we could set up a session on this issue of Special Economic Zones, which could resonate at the EU-AU summit – because at the EABF, there is always a declaration attached to the political summit, which creates a link at the level of decision makers.
This reflection could also be developed using the platforms run by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Friends of Europe, with the support of IPEMED, to bring together Europeans and Africans from the political, public and private sectors.
APP – You are already planning to take action!
Cécile BILLAUX – Yes, our idea is to see how to use this study to bounce back. We are currently setting up the topics in the framework of the EABF and will be able to discuss with the AU if it is a relevant topic for them also in this context. Based on the study, it is a question of going beyond, with working groups of industrialists and the public sector from Europe and Africa that will be able to dialogue upstream and will allow us to arrive at the EABF with avenues of reflection… Be sure, we are very motivated to continue the reflections that you have initiated by involving the private sector.
* Ms. Cécile BILLAUX is Head of the Private Sector, Investment and Employment Unit in the European Commission’s International Partnerships Directorate General