Today, 23rd of June, British and Commonwealth Citizens residents in the UK will decide whether Britain should leave or stay in the EU. The referendum has predictably been surrounded by discussions for what a British exit- Brexit- would mean for a whole host of people and various social, political and economic issues. Of particular interest is the discussion around the possible impact of ‘Brexit’ on developing and emerging markets; from which a debate has developed around whether or not Africa should be in favour of or against ‘Brexit’.

The ongoing ‘Brexit for Africa’ debate revolves around three main issues; prejudicial migration terms and policies which have to favour EU citizens over non-EU migrants; the EU’s distortionary Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the prospect of Britain entering international trade agreements independent of the EU.

Immigration: Immigration has always been a prominent feature of political discourse in Britain and in the wake of the current EU migrant crisis, it has taken centre stage in the national debate on ‘Brexit’. Over the last decade or so, Britain has issued more stringent immigration policies for non-EU migrants because of commitments made to the EU regarding the free movement of labour. The current immigration policy therefore discriminates against Commonwealth citizens in favour of EU migrants. Proponents of ‘Brexit’ for Africa argue that this could be reversed if Britain left the EU. However, with many developed countries tightening up on immigration, there is little assurance that a British exit from the EU would result in fairer policies towards African or Commonwealth Countries. This has been well illustrated by the new UK Home Office Policy for the indefinite settlement of non-EU skilled workers; in this policy, the earnings threshold that would qualify an individual for indefinite ‘leave to remain’ has been raised to 35,000 GBP. This ultimately means that ‘Brexit’ is highly unlikely to result in more reasonable migration towards African migrants.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): The second issue in the ‘Brexit for Africa’ debate is the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which provides subsidies to EU farmers resulting in a competitive disadvantage for African farmers and their agricultural produce. Some of the agricultural exports that are covered by the CAP notably include beef exports, cereals, fruit and sugar. The resultant obstacle to competition is exacerbated by the fact that Agriculture supports the livelihoods of over 70 percent of the African population. Even though recent reforms of the CAP have reduced overproduction and dumping in developing economies, it is still particularly difficult for African farmers to compete in European markets. To this end Britain has long been one of the more vocal critics and opponents of the EU’s CAP, decrying the effect of the subsidies on agriculture-dependent developing economies.

Would a British exit result in better CAP conditions for African countries? Probably not: Without the influence of Britain in the EU, evolution of the CAP in a direction that is favourable to African economies becomes even more improbable. More importantly, the CAP would continue to exist after ‘Brexit’ meaning that the status quo is likely to persist.

Ability to enter into trade agreements: The final issue in the ‘Brexit for Africa’ debate is centred on the ability of Britain to enter into international trade agreements outside the EU. The argument here is that outside of the EU, Britain will be able to have better trade agreements with Africa; agreements that may perhaps undo some of the damage caused by the CAP. However fundamental changes in the global trade landscape and ideology render this argument untenable. The Lome convention that started in the 1970’s as colonialism came to a close granted non-reciprocal trade preferences to African, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (ACP) nations. These tariff free import quotas covered agricultural and mineral materials. Strong protest from the USA coupled with the emergence of the WTO and the Single Market ushered in a change of rules resulting in the outlawing of discrimination between producers based on status. With both Britain and the EU entering into Free trade agreements with other regions and countries, the result has been a reduction of preferential treatment for African countries.

For Britain however, this turn-away preceded their joining of the EU, and other EU countries have often been cited as having better trade engagements with Commonwealth countries. In the event of a British exit from the EU, Africa may actually find herself behind the likes of India and China in regard to EU-free UK trade partnerships. The EU is currently the world’s largest trading bloc accounting for up to 20 percent of global GDP. There is little certainty that on its own, Britain can command the same kind of negotiating and bargaining power. In addition, if ‘Brexit’ were to be followed by the exit of other disgruntled countries, African economies would probably struggle to find a foothold in a highly fragmented market. It is therefore a reach to conclusively argue that ‘Brexit’ would in fact lead to better trade relations for Africa.

Regional integration: If ‘Brexit’ might not have a significant trade impact on Africa then why the interest? In the wake of the upcoming ‘Brexit’ referendum there is a lesson in there for the East African Community and the other regional economic communities. The EAC has been growing as a trading bloc, and has recently welcomed South Sudan into the fold. However, on the whole African integration has been less extensive than European integration with poor economic performance. In the past decade or so, reginal integration has been at the forefront of African economic development and any progress made on that account has been internationally applauded. An Africa in support of ‘Brexit’ would completely go against the grain of the development impetus across the continent. With so many linkages being formed across Africa, what kind of precedent would ‘Brexit’ set? Perhaps the more salient considerations in the debate should question whether or not integration is better for world economies; and what is needed for integrated economies to function.

There are lots of things not going right in Brussels, but these should not make integration wrong. African regional integration has got the advantage of looking at the EU and avoiding the same mistakes. It is clear that with so many moving pieces to consider, at best the fallout from Brexit is uncertain. If anything, Africa and other emerging markets are most likely to suffer from the ensuing effects of uncertainty if Britain votes to leave the EU. With most of Sub-Saharan Africa reeling from oil price drops and contending with China’s slowdown and falling commodity prices, Kenya’s central bank warns that the 2013 volatility brought about by changing US monetary policy would be ‘child’s play’ in comparison to the potential ramifications of ‘Brexit’.

A London-based Ugandan by the name Sam Akaki through his organisation, Democratic Institution for Poverty Reduction in Africa, made a plea in the guardian urging African-Britons to vote in favour of ‘Brexit’. In spite of the merits of his argument there really is no indication that ‘Brexit’ would actually lead to ‘equitable trading agreements with the UK’ or to better migration policies for African migrants. Overall, there really doesn’t seem to be much in Brexit for Africa because of the simple reason that with or without Brexit the conditions stifling African trade and development will continue to exist.

Anita Ntale is a Research Analyst at EPRC

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