By Phil Pascal

The writer is a Caribbean journalist and Commentator on development issues. This is the first article in a two-part Series on the next stage of ACP-EU relations in the Post-Cotonou Agreement with the EU.

BRIDGETOWN (ACP-IDN) – The historic partnership agreement between 107 industrialized and developing nations – known as the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) and the European Union – will expire on February 29, 2020. Negotiations on a successor agreement impacting more than 1.5 billion people of states constituting more than half of the UN membership are set to officially begin on October 1, 2018, according to reliable EU sources.

To some persons, following this next stage of ACP-EU relations, the negotiations can be a golden opportunity for the ACP Group to “come of age” as a strong dynamic force in the global arena.

On my part, to understand what might be the next stage, in how the ACP and EU best leverage their value and common interests, would be to probe what exactly will be the large development issues both ACP and the EU intend to address in the negotiations.

Situating the Post-Cotonou Negotiations

ACP’s Negotiating Mandate, unanimously adopted by the ACP Council of Ministers at their 107th Session in Lomé, Togo, on May 30, 2018 emphasizes that individually and collectively the ACP countries attach the highest importance to their partnership with the EU.

This is a partnership that has deepened and widened over more than four decades, through successive Lomé Conventions (1975 -2000) and the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, now completing 18 years of “trade, aid and political dialogue” with policy instruments to guide programmes at national, regional and all-ACP levels.

These are programmes with a dedicated financial instrument, called the European Development Fund (EDF) that supported ACP’s exports of bananas, cocoa, sugar and horticulture products to the EU markets, provided billions of Euros for an African Peace Facility and strengthened health, food security and higher education exchanges among ACP and EU institutions.

Building on concrete achievements of the ACP-EU partnership and its mutual benefits as a solid bloc in the multilateral arena, there is a conscious and deliberate decision to use those years of achievements for a new approach that recognizes development cooperation in terms of technology transfer and capacity-building by all Parties of the Agreement.

In doing so, the new overarching framework that will underlie ACP-EU relations will be the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all ACP countries in Agenda 2030 at which ACP Heads of State and Government made their commitment at the UN’s 2015 Summit.

The negotiations for a Post Cotonou Partnership Agreement (PCPA) are therefore seen by the ACP Group, as taking place in the rapidly evolving technological age of the 21st century, having new regional political alignments and much economic and trade turbulence. It is not business as usual for the ACP. They clearly intend to pursue an agreement that further enhances their partnership with the European Union and strengthens mutually beneficial relations between developed and developing countries, across the globe.

A comprehensive and ongoing process is being undertaken to prepare for the negotiations. These, I am told, include outreach missions to ACP and EU capital cities and engagements with UN agencies, the African Union (AU), Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Regional Integration Organisations (RIOs), parliamentarians, private enterprise and Non-State Actors (NSAs).

The ACP’s Lomé mandate stresses that a comprehensive successor Agreement of the ACP-EU partnership should be situated in the context of today’s economic and geopolitical realities of a turbulent, multi-polar world, marked by widespread questioning of globalization and the sharp increase of structured inequality within and between societies.

This is exemplified by the many Summits and Conferences held under the aegis of the UN over the past two decades, on development, the environment, climate change, health, migration, youth employment and women empowerment. To all of these issues as cross-cutting themes or substantive issues in their own right, such as climate change and the environment or youth, migration and heath, the ACP’s mandate will make all-ACP provisions and also address regional needs and interests.

Take for instance, the case that many ACP Member States, about 47 in total, are now categorized as Middle-Income Countries (MICs).

While, classified that way by the IMF, they remain burdened by serious structural challenges of inequality, poverty, underdevelopment and increasing vulnerability. These are features that also affect other ACP States that are classified as Less Developed Countries (LDCs), Land Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

This spectrum of needs and interests requires global attention as commonalities for all ACP countries but also deserve regional treatments for the specific needs that vary for countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

South-South & Triangular Cooperation

Besides, the engagement of ACP countries with each other their relations with the rest of the world has undergone considerable transformation. They now engage more in South-South cooperation and regional integration, as seen in initiatives on customs unions, free trade areas, economic partnership agreements and regional infrastructure projects. ACP countries also engage more and more directly with emerging global powers in the pursuit of lofty national and regional development aspirations.

However, the common thread binding ACP countries is their pursuit of sustainable development for their populations in the framework of the UN’s Agenda 2030 and its 17 SDGs and with respect for human rights, rule of law and the fight against corruption.

While fully conscious of the growth in regionalization as in the strengthening of the African continental integration agenda, Caricom’s single market and economy, as well as advances in Pacific regionalism, there remains an unwavering sense of South-South solidarity, unabated within the ACP Group.

This unity of purpose while acknowledging diversity and differences in stages of development will be a key and strategic consideration in forging a firm foundation for a 21st century ACP-EU partnership that uses principles of subsidiarity, complementarity and proportionality to maximize the impact of programmes and projects for sustainable development of ACP societies.

Negotiating as a unified entity for a Single Undertaking

The core guiding principle for the negotiations – as mandated by the ACP Council of Ministers – is the pursuit of a single Agreement, which shall be legally binding, fair and balanced. The new Agreement should maintain and build on the acquis (achievements and limitations) of the Cotonou Agreement through a single negotiating framework and single undertaking.

These are principles clearly stated in the ACP’ Negotiating Mandate to ensure equality and mutual respect, inclusiveness and ownership of the development process by the Parties, in which will be political and economic dialogue as on-going processes to arrive at and advocate common positions.

The preceding discussion captures the principles and process underlying the ACP’s Mandate that was shared with the European Council when the Joint ACP-EU Council met in their 45th Session in Lome on June 1, 2018. On their part, the European Council, represented by the 28 EU member states have approved on June 21, 2018 the Negotiating Directives providing the authority to the European Commission to open negotiations for a new partnership agreement with 79 ACP countries.

The European Commission announced the Council decision on June 22, two days after the conclusion of the June 18-20 ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, where representatives of the Commission stressed that the future partnership should be “a genuine, open and constructive dialogue, and not just going through the motions”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 August 2018]

Note: In a subsequent article attention will be given to the substantive issues that are thematic as well as global and regional to underpin a strong nucleus by which to drive structural transformation of ACP economies and help to realize the UN’s SDGs with no country left behind.

Image source: caribbeannewsnow.com

This report is part of a joint project of the Secretariat of the ACP Group of States and IDN, flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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