'Marshall plan' for Africa approved by the EU

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An ambitious "Marshall plan for Africa" – to combat poverty and disease and allow the continent access to markets in the industrialised world – passed its first hurdle in Brussels on Wednesday .

The Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who currently holds the chairmanship of the European Union, said a five-point plan laying the basis for the New Africa Initiative (NAI) had been agreed between him and five African presidents, including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade.

The NAI was endorsed by Tony Blair in his speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton last week when he said "the state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world".

After meeting the African presidents, Mr Verhofstadt said the NAI, which aims to end wars, poverty and disease on the continent by 2015, should be supported because "it is based on ideas from Africa itself".

The European Union agreed to meet twice a year with a special NAI steering committee, establish permanent links between the initiative and the European Commission, start a pilot project to train civil servants and set up common groups on infrastructure projects and on current links between the EU and Africa.

The NAI, which was first presented to the World Economic Forum at Davos in January, also wants Africa to have a voice in the G8 group of the major industrialised countries.

Observers believe that it has a greater chance of success than any previous development plans for Africa because it cuts to the core of the wealth gap.

Many analysts believe the first tangible economic benefits for Africa will come with the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy whose system of subsidies results in the dumping of foodstuffs on the continent and prevents African countries from exporting their products at competitive prices.

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