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The future of ACP, Europe relations

Islands Business

The future of ACP, Europe relations

What happens after Cotonou expires in 2020?

* Makereta Komai

ACP–EU relations have been in existence for quite a while but what great gains has it achieved, for at least one of its small islands member in the Pacific, Palau, asks its former Vice President, Sandra Pierantozzi.

Pierantozzi is one of hundreds of contributors in an online discussion on the future relationship between the rich global north (European Union) and its former dependencies in the global south (African, Caribbean and Pacific).
The online discussion has generated vigorous debate so far. Reactions have been posted from various parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Pacific and Europe.

“To me, it’s a mistake to group so many countries from several very different and distant regions of the world together.
“Within each region are so many countries, peoples, cultures and so on, with just as varied socio-economic needs.
“I agree that trade, not aid, is the best way to develop these countries to a self sufficient level of development.

“However, applying the same guidelines and levels of assistance, financial and in kind, to resource-rich African countries and resource-limited small islands nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean may be more destructive than helpful,” said Pierantozzi.

Could this spell the fragmentation of the 79-member ACP group into its three different regions, ending the world’s largest North-South political and economic co-operation?

Judging from the various comments posted in the online discussion, there is a growing feeling, at least in Europe that the Europeans are only interested in the natural resources of Africa, now being aggressively pursued by China and India.

“The ‘A’ (Africa) is too important to Europe’s prosperity and something more coherent and intelligent than the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) will replace it, said Professor Roman Grynberg, also posting on the discussion forum.

“The EPA is so weak, fragile and ill-conceived in Africa that other rising powers will be able to have much better access than the EU to Africa’s resources.

And that makes the C (Caribbean) & P (Pacific) redundant in the equation, argues Grynberg, who until 2009 was the Director of Economic Governance at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

“C&P, due largely to their complete irrelevance to the commercial interests of the EU, will surely be dealt with in the context of the EPAs, but the EU, like India and China, will continue to need access to Africa’s vast resources.
“The Caribbean and the Pacific are being increasingly differentiated from Africa. After 2020 the ACP group will become part of post-colonial history,” according to Grynberg.

But Vanuatu’s top diplomat in Brussels thinks otherwise. Ambassador Roy Mickey Joy holds the view that “the EU will not let go of the ACP easily because of the close political, social and economic ties built over 35 years”.
“The writing is on the wall for us and it’s no secret that the status quo must change fundamentally.

“While we hope to count on Europe’s generosity, we must take full responsibility of our own development,” said Ambassador Joy.

For us in the Pacific, we can determine our own future with the EU if “we remain fully and meaningfully engaged with them in the coming years”.
And this means concluding the Economic Partnership Agreement at the earliest time to show our commitment to the partnership.

“While no size fits all in terms of the negotiations, the Pacific needs to find the right formula to reflect the collective interests of its 14 members in the EPA talks, said Ambassador Joy.

Some political commentators say the only hope for small islands nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific would be to establish Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union.

The Caribbean as a region, through CARIFORUM, initialled an EPA with the EU in 2008, while the Pacific is attempting to conclude negotiations and sign up by December this year.

Some, from both sides of the equation, are asking for an honest clarification from the EU on how it wants to further the development co-operation with the ACP after 2020.

One respondent said the ACP could become a slimmed down ‘niche’ entity—perhaps without the Caribbean and Pacific members, who are already working on separate EPAs with the EU.

Whatever form it will take after 2020, the new entity could become the trade arm of the African Union, suggested the respondent.

Or as this respondent said, the key question is whether there is still a role for an ACP configuration. However, he suggested a radical reshuffle of the current set-up.

Then there are those who have sentimental attachment to the 35 years of development co-operation between the two groups and see a future in the partnership.

Former Director General for Development at the European Commission, Dieter Frisch commenting on the same online discussion said, “The relationship is evolving and will remain relevant and substantive beyond 2020.

“There is no use predicting the end of a privileged relationship as long as no other and better and politically feasible model has been drawn up.”
Frisch said the question of the raison d’être of the ACP-Group was their right from the outset: on the European side many of us were indeed surprised when in 1973 six Caribbean and three Pacific countries decided to join forces with the Africans.

“While they had some problems in common with Africa (e.g. sugar), their main motivation was political, being part of an important group of 46 negotiators led by Nigeria—a member of the then just founded OPEC—and sharing its bargaining power.

The director of ACP General Affairs at the European Commission, Klaus Rudischhauser said the Cotonou Agreement is not “done and old but rather active and working very well”.

“This is why it can be used as a very good model. Compared to the partnership of the EU with Africa as a whole, Cotonou is different and more established, it is the most wide-ranging agreement of the EU,” Rudischhauser said.

ACP’s comparative advantage

EU’s expanding global agenda has nothing to do with the ACP, apart from further marginalising the group while exposing them to more exploitation.
The expanding global agenda is meant to protect and enhance EU interests without necessarily promoting the ACP-EU relations where interests in other regions are more important.

As a consequence, the new global agenda can only drive the last nail into the coffin of an already hopeless relationship that has not helped the ACP group to attain any meaningful development.

“We see the emerging economies becoming more active in the ACP countries by way of exploiting the available resources with impunity. ACP countries have continued to export commodities and unprocessed raw materials to the emerging economies and importing poor quality products, like it has always been with the EU, wrote Edmund Paul Kalkyezi.

He strongly supported a move towards forging a new partnership with emerging economies like China and India.

“They should review the relations with all their trading partners and determine the development path they want to take even if this means abandoning the EU.

“The earlier the ACP group realises that development can never be achieved through aid and preferences the better, he added.

ACP, which consists of countries from both ends of the political and economic spectrum, is assessing its strengths and weaknesses to determine its future, in nine years time.

The ACP group could assert itself as a global player based on its collective human and natural resources, its historical links with the EU as well as its proximity to emerging economies.

A member of the European Parliament, Ska Keller said South-South co-operation is crucial if the ACP is to stay relevant in the transformed geopolitical environment now facing the globe.

“I do find South-South cooperation crucial in light of the experience the emerging donors have in fighting poverty in their own country.

“The ACP and EU have lots of common interests to bring forward on the global agenda, like the eradication of poverty, sustainable development, the preservation of public goods, etc. These are aims that can only be achieved together,” said Keller.

The ACP-EU relations can serve as an example to other regions in the world. It is about identifying the positive things that work and expand these to other regions in the world.

Future perspectives post-2020

On 6 June, the ACP celebrated its 36th anniversary in Brussels. It was an opportune time for Secretary-General Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas to reiterate his challenge to the 79-member group to re-assess its place in the world as its key partner, the European Union, undergoes changes.

“I need not remind us that our world is changing with breathtaking rapidity.
“Globalisation imposes new competitive pressures on the economies of our member countries even as the rules-based World Trade Organisation (WTO) international trading regime no longer accommodates the privileged trading arrangements that we once enjoyed with Europe.

“We also face a new era of uncertainties. The New Europe, with its changing institutional architecture and emerging geopolitical priorities, poses a challenge for us to reassess our place in the world.

“While we appreciate the support we have continued to receive from our EU partners, it is evident that we must take our future into our own hands while embracing a South-South cooperation and the opportunities opened up by the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil.”
Hope is not lost within the ACP.
It has a nine-year timeline to come up with various options and scenarios for the group after 2020.

From this year, the ACP Secretariat will engage in an outreach and consultation campaign to elicit opinions and ideas from all stakeholders which include the EU and ACP regional organisations, other developing countries and organisations of developing countries (G77, G24 & Non-Aligned Movement).

Submission of a report on the outreach exercise, including conclusions and concrete proposals will form the final future perspective of the ACP Group, according to the draft report of the ACP Committee of Ambassador’s Working Group tasked with the future perspectives of ACP.

A study will be commissioned to examine the continued relevance of ACP as a group in the new and evolving global environment.

The study will also review ACP’s privileged relations and co-operation with the EU, taking into account the second Revised Cotonou Partnership Agreement, the Lisbon Treaty as well as relations with other development partners.

So does the ACP-EU relationship have what it takes to survive?
As one respondent puts it…“The status quo is not good enough, dramatic changes will have to occur if the relationship is not to be subsumed by EU’s other partnerships in the developing world.”

*Makereta Komai is the Editor of PACNEWS, the news arm of Pacific Islands News Association.

What prompted the review

When it was signed in 2000, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and the European Union was widely viewed as offering an ambitious and innovative agenda that would enhance political dialogue, encourage the participation of non-state actors and result in a more effective development cooperation framework.
It therefore went beyond the narrow trade and aid focus that was the hallmark of earlier ACP-EU treaties, right from the first post-independence framework agreed in Yaoundé in 1963 through the four successive Lomé conventions implemented between 1975 and 2000.
Increasingly however, it appears that a constellation of global changes and internal dynamics has thrown the future of the partnership wide open. A key driver in this has been the adoption of the new Lisbon Treaty in 2009, under which the EU has embarked on fundamental institutional reorganisation to strengthen its position as a global player. This includes a review of all existing EU partnership agreements on a geopolitical basis and along regional lines that has undermined the unity of the ACP Group and heightened doubts on the relevance of the ACP-EU framework. Further complicating these internal dynamics is the growing political and economic muscle of the emerging powers, which has opened up new avenues of cooperation for developing countries.
It is not surprising that one of the very first actions taken by the incoming ACP Secretary General, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, was to appoint an Ambassadorial Working Group on the Future Perspectives of the ACP Group after 2020. —By J Laporte