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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 09:31 GMT
France hits back at Short's blast
Clare Short
Short: 'France and EU stand in the way of reform'
France's ambassador to Britain has defended his country's record on Africa following an attack by a British minister.

The problem in Africa is so serious that we have to surmount old rivalries

Daniel Bernard, French ambassador
International development secretary Clare Short reportedly accused France and the EU of a "conspiracy" to keep Africa in poverty.

She was quoted in the Daily Telegraph newspaper as saying British-backed proposals to dismantle trade barriers between Africa and Europe were being undermined by French and EU protectionism.

But the French ambassador Daniel Bernard said France was fully engaged in negotiations to end tariffs and on other issues included in the Tony Blair-backed New Partnership on African Development (NAPAD).

Mr Blair is attempting to secure French approval for NAPAD ahead of the next G8 group of industrialised nations meeting later this year.

'French intransigence'

Mr Bernard said it had gone unnoticed in Britain that France had already removed trade barriers for Africa's least developed countries.

Europe is a bag of tricks about this at the moment

Clare Short
"We have started working together with the British because we think the problem in Africa is so serious that we have to surmount old rivalries," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He denied that Ms Short's alleged comments reflected a wider frustration with French intransigence on trade issues.

"We can only rely on the official position of the British government and that is, I think, extremely close to the French position on the future of Africa," Mr Bernard said.

'Big power blocks'

Ms Short reportedly made her comments last week during a four day visit to Africa with the prime minister.

She told the Telegraph there were "big power blocks" in the way of an agreement on free trade.

"Europe is a bag of tricks about this at the moment.

"It's a conspiracy from France and the EU to lock Africa into poverty, and at the same time Europe preaches free trade," she reportedly said.

Asked to comment on Ms Short's reported remarks, Mr Blair told the Telegraph: "I don't want to get into a diplomatic row with France."

See also:

10 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair seeks support for Africa
10 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone opens its arms to Blair
09 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair praises Sierra Leone troops
08 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair targets African dictators
08 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Perils of a globetrotting PM
07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
In Africa with Blair
07 Feb 02 | Africa
Blair begins African tour
09 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair gets African message
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