Visit to Mauritania May01

A Parliamentary Delegation comprising Mr Bashir Khanbhai MEP (UK), Mrs Margie Sudre MEP (France) and Mrs Brigitte Langenhagen MEP (Germany) paid a visit to Mauritania on 6-10 April 2001. The purpose of their visit was to identify how the EU can help small and medium sized businesses in Mauritania to exploit natural resources to give maximum value added for products to be sold in the domestic and export markets.

Mauritania occupies an important strategic position in West Africa, straddled between Morocco and Algeria to the North and Senegal and Mali to the South, thus forming a bridge between the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa. Caught between the two geo-political blocks, it is now looking towards the North, and increasing cooperation between the European Union and Northern African countries. However, Mauritania's recent withdrawal from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) will have negative repercussions on access to financing under the Cotonou agreement.

Although the country has a better economic record than some of its poorer neighbours, 51% of its population live below the poverty line and a considerable number of these people in rural areas and the unemployed in city suburbs live in abject poverty. Mauritania's external debt totals 214% of its GDP. Any small economic success is squeezed out of the country as the government struggles to pay off fractions of its debt. Indeed, income per capita is less than the debt rate per capita. Life expectancy is still a good twenty five years less than that in rich countries due to widespread malaria, TB and AIDS.

The European Community has played an important role in helping Mauritania in recent years. Since 1985, the country has benefited from over 335 million euros of development aid, amounting to approximately 53 million euros per year. The most recent ACP-EU agreement signed in Cotonou for the period 2000-2020 focuses on ...

But Mauritania needs more than a packet of financial support if it is to find a way out of the spiral of poverty. Indeed, huge amounts of European taxpayers money risk shrivelling up in the desert sun unless the structures are in place to ensure the money is well spent, the projects are followed up and the real beneficiaries are the Mauritanian people.

Mauritania has two main industrial strengths: the fishing industry and iron ore. The fishing industry provides 47.5% of the country's export revenue and operates in the framework of an agreement which is the largest fishing agreement signed by the European Community with a third country. This has helped tremendously, but fundamental problems remain. Mauritania is not the main beneficiary of most of its products, since value added is given to the middlemen who process and package the raw material from Mauritania. Also, very importantly, the country lacks an adequate fleet of fishing vessels, especially in Nouakchott, a main port. Here the EU could help out by transferring unused vessels that may otherwise be destroyed to Mauritania.

Small and medium businesses have been the motor for growth in Western Europe for centuries and can do the same for Africa. Our delegation was honoured to visit a dairy farmer who makes ingenious and delicious products from camel milk ...

As a result of our trip, I am working on a number of projects intended to aid the development of Mauritanian business and industry and also improve basic social structures to support growth. There are so many areas in which help is badly needed. On the social side, I shall be focusing on education for children and young adults by establishing a radio for schools programme that will reach even the most far flung areas. I am also responsible for the Parliament Report on accelerated action for communicable diseases, which highlights the need to set up a global fund to tackle the scourge of the three main killer diseases in Africa - AIDS, Malaria and TB - and also put into place the underlying infrastructure that is essential if these diseases are to be impacted upon. These three communicable diseases not only represent a colossal social problem, but also a major obstacle to economic growth and stability in the region.