By Reinhardt Jacobsen
As the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) gear up for talks on future relations between the two groupings after the Cotonou Agreement expires in February 2020, some areas of agreement on their respective stances have emerged.
The agreement that was signed in June 2000 in Cotonou – Benin’s largest city – is the most comprehensive partnership treaty between developing countries and the EU. Its fundamental principles include equality of partners, global participation, dialogue and regionalisation.
The treaty entered into force in 2003 and was subsequently revised in 2005 and 2010. In 2010, it was adapted to new challenges such as climate change, food security, regional integration, state fragility and aid effectiveness.
A post-Cotonou treaty, according to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, will be “a modernised Partnership” that will focus on many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an historic UN Summit.
“The EU and the ACP countries represent together more than 100 countries, and more than half of the United Nations member states. Together, we have an important role in shaping the global agenda and international cooperation,” she stated in a recommendation to the European Council on December 12, 2017.
“As an essential part of our commitment to multilateralism, modernising our ACP-EU partnership will allow us to jointly tackle today’s global challenges of building peaceful and resilient states, ensuring respect of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democratic principles,” she said in the recommendation that included a proposal.
The proposal will form the basis for the EU negotiating memorandum to be exchanged with the 79-member ACP group in May 2018 and the negotiations would begin in Brussels over the forthcoming weeks.
ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick I. Gomes said in an interview with the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), a Barbados-based centralised content-provider for the various Caribbean media houses in the region: “We on our side in the ACP will be working on how we want to shape our negotiating mandate around three levels.”
The first level, he said in the interview with Peter Richards, a staff writer of the CMC, would be the broad context internationally where the ACP countries would want to see the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “as the overall framework, ending poverty, gender equality, food security, ocean governance …all 17 goals as a framework.”
a Barbados-based centralised content-provider for the various Caribbean media houses in the region.
In the interview carried by CANA News Online on January 4, he stressed: “What we are pleased about is that this is an open ended agreement without a fixed period. So it is a political engagement between the two groups of countries…We will concentrate on what we call the counterpart to their foundation, which we call our central negotiating themes…and they will deal with the issues under the SDGs, but also specifically for what our three regions will address in the ensuing agreement.”
The European Commission argues on its website, “many of today’s challenges of a global dimension require a concerted, multilateral approach, in order to achieve tangible results in areas such as economic growth, jobs creation and investment, climate change, poverty eradication, peace and security, and migration.”
For example, the Commission notes, the ACP-EU partnership was instrumental for the formation and steering of the High Ambition Coalition, which ultimately led to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement to fight climate change in 2015.
The Commission is of the view that “with the modernisation of the EU-ACP partnership into a foundation agreement and three regional compacts, the institutional set-up, processes of governance and decision-making, will have to be streamlined and simplified accordingly.”
The priorities proposed by the Commission for the EU Africa Compact are to focus on achieving peace and stability, consolidating democracy and good governance, unleashing economic opportunities, reaching human development standards, managing migration and mobility as well as addressing climate change.
According to the Commission, the proposal is fully in line with the outcome of the recent AU-EU Summit. It seeks as well to strengthen the ‘One Africa approach’ and foresees a strong involvement of North African countries, this with full respect for the existing bilateral association agreements of the EU with the North African countries.
The European Commission sees a number of key areas of cooperation for the regional Compact with the Caribbean, addressing climate change, vulnerability, citizen security, good governance, human rights, human development and social cohesion. Deepening regional integration, fostering inclusive sustainable growth, trade and job creation, fighting inequalities and reducing natural disasters effects are also high on the agenda.
“The large number of island nations and their huge maritime territories make the Pacific countries an important player for the EU in tackling global challenges, particularly with respect to their vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change. Other priorities should focus on good governance, human rights and inclusive sustainable growth,” notes the Commission.
Speaking about the EU Africa Compact, ACP Secretary General Gomes said that the Commission’s view was helpful because it was speaking about an EU-African Compact which will be one pillar, an EU-Caribbean compact which will be a second pillar and the EU-Pacific compact which will be a third pillar.
He said those pillars would fit within an overarching foundation of general principles and some strategic priorities.
“We in the Caribbean have to pay great attention to what are our strategic priorities, whereas in the ACP we have identified three strategic pillars or priorities,” he said, adding that these priorities include linking trade with investment, services and industrialisation.
“We are not going any longer for the single commodity export orientation. That is part of EPA (Economic Partnership Agreement) now. But we must link that with investment, services and industrialisation because we have to get value added out of our raw materials in a much more aggressive way,” the ACP Secretary General said in the interview.
Gomes said the second pillar would examine development cooperation “not so much from aid” noting “we are not interested in aid and in fact the Caribbean middle income countries have moved out of the grant assistance, but there will be other avenues to leverage what is called blending facilities with the European Investment Bank.”
He said the ACP would seek to address development cooperation in relation to technology transfer, research and innovation, to enhance capacity both organisational and capacity of the group’s raw materials.
He said the last pillar represents a contentious area of political dialogue and advocacy “which again is endorsing very strongly the rule of law, good governance, fundamental human rights.”
He added: “We envisage in the ACP to approach this with a number of other factors to be taken into account. For example the revision of the Georgetown Agreement (that formally established the ACP in 1975) is very necessary.”
Gomes said that the document, which was revised in 2003, now has to examine how the Group could have associate membership “because … Africa does not want us to be dealing with Sub-Saharan Africa only but continental Africa and that means some relationship with North Africa.”
He added: “We think this is significant also for trade because as you know from their EPA, they have gone into a tripartite agreement with a few of their regions…and they want to go into a continental free trade area.”
Gomes said that the ACP also has to take into consideration Brexit and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, noting that the trade talks are to begin very soon.
“In those trade talks we want to be able to make a case, to point out that EPA is already in place and we can have EPA plus,” he said, noting that the two-year transition between the UK’s withdrawal “should give us enough space to negotiate what we see as a carry-over.”
“For us in the Caribbean,” he said, “I think our work must target on what we see that pillar as critical. Whereas they have identified some areas as strategic priorities ours must stay on health, non-communicable disease, which we have already raised at the UN as an issue in which the Caribbean can take a leadership role.”
Gomes said that the Caribbean also enjoys a good working relationship with the Pacific regarding ocean governance including illegal fishing. “So we also would like to continue the role that ACP has played in defending the World Trade Organization (WTO) contrary to those powers up North who want to undermine the WTO and strike deals in trade.”
He added: “We have accepted the principle there must be a multilateral trading system with clearly defined rules and for developing countries there must be special and differential treatment. Similarly we would like to see, not only around the oceans, but also what is happening with managing our forests because our countries like Suriname, Guyana, Belize, we have a forest stock.”
Because there are other forest countries in Africa that would combine with the Caribbean to examine the role to be played in climate change issues.
“We have a full agenda, a lot of work and we want to be able to engage the public, civil society, private public partnerships because that is exactly the thrust and direction which the (European) Commission is orienting,” Gomes added.