By Jaya Ramachandran
BRUSSELS (IDN) – Members of Parliament from 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries want a “radical departure” from the traditional relationship with the European Union (EU), which in their view has been marked by an “imbalance” between the two blocs in terms of economic might and levels of technology and capacity.
The ACP developing countries wish to achieve a level of sustainable development that enables them to progress from being dependent exporters of raw materials to being able to add value to their own products.
This was the distinctive message emerging from the ‘ACP Parliamentary Assembly’ and the first joint session of its kind with the Bureau of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors October 9-11 in Brussels to discuss issues related to crucial negotiations for a new partnership framework agreement with the EU beyond 2020, the year the ‘Cotonou Agreement’ ends.
The Cotonou Agreement – a comprehensive and legally binding treaty that governs trade, development cooperation and political dialogue between the two groups of countries – was signed in June 2000 in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, by 78 ACP countries (Cuba was not included) and the then 15 EU Member States.
It replaced the Lomé Convention, which had been the basis for ACP-EU development cooperation since 1975, and entered into force in 2003. It was subsequently revised in 2005 and 2010.
Ibrahim Rassin Bundu of Sierra Leone, President of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly, stressed at the gathering: “Although it will be ministers and ambassadors who will negotiate the post-Cotonou Agreement, they need to do so on the basis of views that represent all the divergent needs and interests of the ACP Group. The ACP we want, must be people-driven and not just the preserve of government representatives because the issues touch on the ordinary lives of all ACP citizens.”
He pointed out that the ACP Parliamentary Assembly looks forward to having “a more substantive role in the new institutional framework of the reformed ACP Group.” he added. This was the 47th session of the Assembly.
Ambassador Teshome Toga Chanaka of Ethiopia, outgoing Chairman of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors, said in his opening statement: “While there is still a bit of time before formal consultations between our two parties begin sometime in 2018, I would like to urge us to be proactive in bringing out the positive results and acquis of the ACP-EU relationship over the past  years, and to develop a strategy for engaging institutions and individuals that will be influential in the decision-making process about the future of the relationship, such as Members of the European Parliament.”
The ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick Gomes made a presentation on the working policy document titled Towards the ACP we want, which outlines the vision, goals and rationale for the ACP Group as an international actor in the 21st century. He pointed to the three strategic pillars that would guide the work of the ACP for a “reinvented” future, and elements for consideration in a renegotiated relationship with the EU.
The three pillars include: (i) Trade, Investments, Industrialisation and Services; (ii) Development Cooperation, Technology, Science and Innovation/Research and (iii) Political Dialogue and Advocacy.
“Transforming economic structures and investment strategies is essential to achieve healthy and productive lives by the great majority in our societies and not only for a few… This means productive resources must enable jobs, particularly for youth, women and girls; investments must give equitable returns to workers by living wages that improve the quality of life of families; and education and health care must become available, at reasonable or no costs,” the ACP Secretary General added.
The underpinnings of the entire process for a post-Cotonou Agreement rests on the fundamental aim of achieving the structural transformation of ACP economies, he added.
“Transforming economic structures and investment strategies is essential to achieve healthy and productive lives by the great majority in our societies and not only for a few.”
These ideas mirrored what several others said. Gambia was clear on this so was Cameroon; and Ethiopia spoke of the youth bombshells ready to explode.
According to Dr. Gomes, the negotiation process for the post-Cotonou Agreement has a road map guiding it – the Georgetown Agreement is to be revised; briefs prepared for the Technical Negotiating Teams on each of the three strategic pillars; studies done on the Political Dialogue and Investment Facility in the Cotonou Agreement, etc. leading to an exchange of a Negotiating Brief with the European commission by August 2018.
The ACP chief said he was “particularly struck by the lady members of Parliament of Samoa and Gabon who gave us an impetus to place emphasis on charting a course to bring tangible benefits to the millions of peoples in our 79 Member States.”
He told the Parliamentarian from Gabon: “I admire your searching question on how will the EU regard the diversification of ACP partnerships? I can only answer your question by saying that it is for us to determine the nature and kind of partnerships the ACP Group as a whole will pursue.”
These need not be incompatible with what we agree to as a legally binding Agreement – a Treaty – with the European Union. The nature and scope of membership in the ACP Group will be determined on the provisions of our Constitutive Act, the GT Agreement of 1975 and amended in 2003.
“The Council has decided that the Agreement be revised. That will be another milestone in our roadmap. The revision will require your critical inputs,” he added. “The Committee of Ambassadors and the ACP Secretariat are committed to ensuring that the voices of our Parliamentary representatives are heard and their concerns taken account of in the negotiations.”
The ACP chief also informed the gathering of the progress made on thematic issues for structural economic transformation: In July 2017, for example, the ACP and UNCTAD approved guiding principles for investment policymaking.
These principles are in support of existing ACP initiatives, such as the ACP Private Sector Development Strategy, the New Approach to ACP support for the development of Agriculture Value chains, and the ACP Investment Facility.
These non-binding principles provide a basis for investment policymaking with a view to: promoting inclusive economic growth and sustainable development; promoting coherence in national and international investment policymaking; fostering an open, transparent and conducive global policy environment for investment; and aligning investment promotion and facilitation policies with sustainable development goals.
These Guiding Principles come at a time of mounting economic, social and environmental challenges, which highlight the critical role of investment as a driver of equitable economic and social growth. Mobilizing investment and ensuring that it contributes to sustainable development remains a key objective of the ACP Group.
Dr. Gomes also drew attention to the historic launch of a Gender initiative to fight against sexual and gender based violence against women and girls. This initiative was launched in the margins of the UN General Assembly and the ACP was represented by the Chairman of the Committee of Ambassadors, Ambassador Amadou DIOP of Senegal. The ACP is a key partner alongside the EU and the UN, he said.
This initiative will strategically focus on the most prevalent forms of Violence Against Women and Girls in different regions, including sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices; specific forms of domestic and family violence; trafficking in human beings; and economic (labour) exploitation.
For the ACP regions, the emphasis will be on sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices in Sub-Saharan Africa, domestic and family violence in the Caribbean, and domestic violence in the Pacific.
“Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic that holds back development. Today it is said that one out of three women experience violence in their lives, this is, about 30% of women in the world. Up until last year 19% of women between 15 and 49 years of age have experienced physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner. These numbers tell us that the issue can no longer be ignored and must be addressed,” the ACP Secretary General said.
“Our mission at the ACP will not be a task for individuals but together with clarity of purpose and by those like you, who are here today, determined to discharge their duty with dignity, determination and distinction,” he added.
He said he was inspired by words from the late Nelson Mandela: “Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognizes that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 October 2017]
Photo (left to right): ACP SG Dr Gomes; Sierra Leone Parliamentarina Bundu, President of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly; and Amb. Chanaka of Ethiopia. Credit: ACP Press
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