Russia President Putin proposes free trade zone with North Africa
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to establish a free trade zone with four North African countries, in a move aimed at increasing Moscow’s influence on the continent.
Less than two weeks after the conclusion of the Russia-Africa Summit, Moscow says that discussions on drafting a free trade agreement with Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria have begun, African Business said in a report.
The official Russian news agency TASS quoted Putin as saying, “we do have to translate the level of political trust [between North African countries and Russia] into economic cooperation. They feel Russia is a friend, and we also treat African countries as friends.”
The Kremlin said that discussions on drafting a free trade agreement have begun between Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) member states and the four North African countries.
Several North African countries have already emphasised their openness to boosting economic relations with Russia. The prime minister of Morocco, Aziz Akhannouch, recently appeared to welcome Russia’s apparent determination to “strengthen friendly ties and constructive cooperation with African countries”.
In June, Algeria struck a deal to help Russian gas giants establish a stronger foothold in the Algerian market. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt has been vocal in criticising Russia’s departure from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed 33m tonnes of Ukrainian grain to reach international markets between July 2022 and July 2023, but there are few suggestions this could derail efforts to further economic cooperation between Cairo and Moscow.
Moscow strengthens ties with Africa
This move comes shortly after the conclusion of the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, which hosted 49 African delegations and 17 African heads of state in a bid to bring about a “new level of mutually beneficial partnerships” between Russia and Africa.
Moscow sought to ingratiate itself with African leaders by wiping out debts worth $23bn and announcing military cooperation deals with over 40 African countries, although there were also some tensions over Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports, which has contributed to soaring world food prices and high levels of inflation in North Africa.