The Samoa Agreement is now a reality—the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and European Union (EU) sign a new partnership agreement. Source: OACPS. - Photo: 2024

EU Enters Political Partnership with 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific States

By P.I Gomes

The writer is a Former Cooperative Republic of Guyana Ambassador to the European Union and ACP Group of States, Brussels (2005 -2015) and Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States (2015-2020).

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago | 15 January 2024 (IDN) — On 15 November 2023 in Apia, the capital of Samoa, the European Union and its member states and the Organisation of African, Caribbean & Pacific States (formerly the ACP Group of States) as the other Party, signed a 20-year Partnership Agreement.

The document, now known as the “Samoa Agreement”, provides as an overarching legal framework for the bi-regional relations between EU’s 27 and the 79-member OACPS. The Partnership covers the majority (55 percent) of the United Nations (UN) membership and comprises a population of 2 billion. The OACPS includes many of the Global South’s poorest and least industrialised countries.

The new Agreement marks a further stage of the long-standing Europe-ACP relationship, originally formed by the then-European Economic Community (EEC) of nine and 46 ACP countries. Signed in 1975, the Lomé Convention of 24 years had four revisions, concluding in 1999 and to be followed by the Cotonou Agreement, signed in Benin in 2000.

These post-colonial relations of an enlarged Europe and former colonies evolved, embracing continuity and change. The original core concerns centred on commercial, economic and political interests, more beneficial for Europe than the ACP Group. The former were guaranteed unhindered access to markets for their industrial and agricultural products, while the ACP countries were granted concessionary trade for primary products and financial “aid”. The underlying structures were firmly laid for decades of “dependent development”, critically analysed by centre-periphery, dependency theorists of development such as Arrighi, Frank and Girvan. [See e.g. Giovanni Arrighi, The African Crisis: World-Systemic and Regional Aspects. New Left Review 15 (May/June): 5 -36.]

The loss of co-managed “aid?

Following “trade and aid,” EU-ACP relations centred on issues such as “governance,” “political dialogue,” “peace and security,” and “human rights.” These loomed large in the Cotonou Agreement that opened relations to “non-state actors”, parliaments, municipal and local governments and civil society organisations (CSOs) as legitimate actors/beneficiaries of the Partnership.

The European Development Fund (EDF), the “aid” instrument exclusively for access and co-management by successive EU-ACP Conventions and Agreements up to 2020, was abolished and budgeted by EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF 2021 -2027). A complex “regionalized” Neighbourhood Development Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) replaced the EDF.

Questions have arisen about whether the loss of co-managed “aid” partially explained why 35 of the 79 OACPS members did not sign the Samoa Agreement on 15 November 2023, indicative of the extent to which the EDF has been a significant incentive for ACP countries’ commitment to previous Agreements.

Other reasons include the distance of the Pacific location and challenging travel routes, differences in constitutional and legislative procedures for treaty signing, and the long delay between an agreed text (April 2021) and the date of signing (November 2023). This delay arose mainly because the EU required unanimity to sign the Agreement and faced internal EU Commission’s differences with Hungary and Poland.

However, by 1 January 2024, 60 ACP countries have signed, satisfying the requisite two-thirds to enable entry into force of the Samoa Agreement. Indeed, an inclusive and complex process and accompanying signing delays have marked what some describe as the “maturing” political relationship of EU-OACPS relations presently.

Although too early to assess substantive details, aspects of the negotiating process reveal the Agreement’s structure and strategic priorities.

Complexity and Compromise in the Negotiating Process

A multi-level inclusive process informed the negotiations, officially launched in New York on 28 September 2018 in the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). That venue was chosen since the overarching framework of the Agreement is the UN Agenda 2030 and 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The OACPS, organized in six regions, ensured inclusivity and representation at the Ministerial and Ambassadorial levels through Central Negotiating Groups (CNG) with two representatives from each region. At another level were Technical Negotiating Teams (TNT), with the ACP Secretariat Task Force providing knowledge of three main pillars and cross-cutting themes that constituted the ACP Negotiating Mandate.

This process demonstrated that the OACPS’ engagement with the EU is by a single unified entity and prevented their fragmentation implied by “regionalisation” in the EU’s Negotiating Directives.

The contrasting approaches were resolved to avoid the EU’s “regionalized entities” that implied preeminence to Africa and secondary importance to the Caribbean and Pacific. An adjusted consolidated text explains why the Agreement is structured in a General Part and three Regional Protocols, one each for Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

This format ensured the trans-regional solidarity of the OACPS and provided a single unified document in which the General Part and strategic priorities of Regional Protocols are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The Agreement’s specificities of “key areas of cooperation” reflect critical issues of the respective regions.

Against this background, the Samoa Agreement is readily understood as “a strengthened political partnership to generate mutually beneficial outcomes on common and intersecting interests and in accordance with shared values of the contracting parties” (Art.1).

As the first of the six Titles of its Strategic Priorities state, the Agreement is grounded in the protection of “Human Rights, Democracy and Governance in People-centered & Rights-based Societies. The fundamental obligations of the signatories are to “promote, protect and respect human rights”, democratic principles and rule of law.

The Strategic Priorities include issues such as Peace & Security; Human & Social Development; Environmental Sustainability & Climate Change and Migration & Mobility.

These are all pertinent and laudable goals to enable an agenda for joint action by the EU and OACPS to advance multilateralism in this era of a changing global order and be a telling tribute to the Samoa Agreement in the coming 20 years of its life. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: The Samoa Agreement is a reality—the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and European Union (EU) sign a new partnership agreement. Source: OACPS.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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