The European Union will not impose trade sanctions against African states under controversial leadership, including Madagascar, for fear of unfairly punishing ordinary citizens, a senior EU official said.

Peter Thompson, director of development for the European Commission’s trade arm, said diplomatic pressure through the United Nations and other international organisations remained the best route to seeking political reforms in Africa.

“In the history of EU and (African) relations, we have never, ever used trade sanctions,” Thompson told Reuters during a visit to Nigeria’s capital Abuja. “We have never used them because we think trade is helping deliver development to the people, not the government.”

Madagascar’s former leader, Marc Ravalomanana, last month urged the EU to follow the African Union’s lead and impose sanctions on President Andry Rajoelina for failing to install a unity government with opposition groups.

The two are among Madagascar’s political elite meeting in South Africa this week for talks on resolving the crisis to avoid a possible military takeover.

“The chances of us ever using trade sanctions against Madagascar are as close to zero as you can possibly imagine,” Thompson said.

But, although the EU has not barred trade, it has suspended aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island.

Main Trading Partner
The European Union is the main trading partner for most African countries, importing around 40 billion euros ($53.9 billion) of goods each year—mostly oil, cocoa and diamonds.

The EU is working to finalize major trade agreements with East and West African trading blocs this year.

Thompson said he hoped the East African Community, made up of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, would sign a new trade deal in the next few months. East African countries reached an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2007, securing EU market access, but later said they would not sign a final deal without firm EU commmitments to development aid.

The EPA is meant to replace preferential trade agreements that the World Trade Organisation has struck down.

Thompson said that if an agreement is not sewn up soon, the entire initiative could collapse.

“At some point, the position of having an agreement ... no longer makes sense. The situation becomes increasingly unsustainable, untenable and legally bankrupt.” The EU is also seeking a trade deal with the West African trade bloc, but talks are not as advanced. (Reuters)