China the victor as Europe fails to secure trade deal with Africa

European and African leaders have signed a pact promoting free trade and democracy but failed to make a breakthrough on formal trade agreements between the two continents.

At a two-day summit in Lisbon, overshadowed by the presence of the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the 53 African and 27 EU nations papered over their differences over Zimbabwe and Darfur.

The new "strategic partnership" is seen by the EU as a way of combating China's growing influence in Africa.

However, there was little sign that the first EU-Africa summit for seven years had made the hoped-for breakthrough on trade. The EU wanted to meet a 31 Decemberdeadline set by the World Trade Organisation for securing a new trading system with former colonies, including those in Africa. But only 15 of the 76 poor countries involved in talks have so far signed economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with Europe.

Abdoulaye Wade, the President of Senegal, said a majority of African leaders at the summit had opposed such agreements. "We are not talking any more about EPAs, we have rejected them," he told reporters. "We are going to meet to see what we can put in place of the EPAs." Claiming that China's approach was winning more friends, he said: "Europe is close to losing the battle of competition in Africa."

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, commenting on the trade talks, said: "It is a challenge for both Africans and Europeans and will require time."

Asked what his message to Europe was, President Mugabe said nothing but raised his arm and made a fist. His involvement persuaded Gordon Brown to boycott the summit.

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who backed Mr Brown's stance, dramatically removed his dog collar during a live television interview yesterday and vowed not to wear it until President Mugabe was no longer in power. He cut his dog collar into pieces which fell to the studio floor of the BBC's Andrew Marr Show to illustrate what the Zimbabwean leader was doing to his own people.

"Do you know what Mugabe has done? He has taken people's identity and literally, if you don't mind, cut it to pieces," he told a surprised Mr Marr.

The archbishop, who urged people to demonstrate against the Mugabe regime, said: "As far as I am concerned, from now on I am not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe has gone." He said: "South Africa has got to wake up to the fact that people there are starving."

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