The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are determined to "undertake the reforms needed to transform the ACP Group into an effective global player, fit for the 21st century, and responsive to the emerging priorities" of member states. This emerged from the two-day gathering of the ACP Council of Ministers who concluded the 105th session on May 4 with key decisions that will influence how the bloc of 79 countries will carve out a more effective role in the international arena. According to the President of the Council, Ethiopia's Minister of Finance and Economic Cooperation, Dr Abraham Tekeste, "The current occupancy of the Presidency of the UN General Assembly by Fiji, and the current membership of Senegal and Ethiopia in the UN Security Council, serve to underscore the positive contributions by ACP countries at the global levels."
In his opening remarks, Peter Thomson, President of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, said: "The unique composition of the ACP Group, with its 79 developing country Member States, positions it to play a crucial role in building the necessary partnerships to achieve the global solutions needed to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development." Thomson, Fiji's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, who was warmly welcomed by ACP Secretary-General Dr Patrick I. Gomes, added: "ACP’s role can only become more significant as we work to progress our sustainable development objectives in a complex and rapidly-changing world."
Thomson acknowledged "the long-standing commitment and dedication of ACP members to advancing global efforts to achieve a free and democratic world of peace and security, and of sustainable development." Stressing another important point, Tekeste, President of the Council, said, the Group must "do more to advance and strengthen intra-ACP cooperation, especially through South-South Cooperation, and to ensure a more balanced partnership with Europe based on shared values and mutual respect." At the same time, he emphasised the need for taking steps "to diversify our partnerships and strengthen the self-financing capacity of the Group by introducing innovative financing mechanisms." Tekeste went a step further: "In fact, we have to be ready to fundamentally reform our cooperation with the EU after 2020 (when the Cotonou agreement expires in 2020) aiming at deepening our relationship in various/differentiated fronts rather than sticking to the traditional cooperation areas."
The Council focused not only on the future of the ACP Group, including its future relations with the EU, but also on a range of other issues such as development finance, trade and commodities, political and humanitarian matters, and the implementation of various development programmes in areas like climate change, private sector development, agriculture, and education amongst others. In fact, the Council President underscored the need for establishing and strengthening ACP institutions, so that the group will get solid and sustainable financing sources. "These institutions will also enhance the comparative advantage of the ACP group over other organizations and thereby contribute towards strengthening the bondage of our group."
After two days of deliberations, the Council took three major decisions:
Decision 1: The Council decided to mandate the Committee of Ambassadors to review the Georgetown Agreement – the founding document of the organisation – while taking into account relevant decisions of the ACP Summits and Council of Ministers, as well as the policy framework document “Towards the ACP we want”, which was also approved in principle by the Council.
Decision 2: The Council approved, in principle, three priority areas to guide future programmes and activities of the Group post-2020, namely: trade, investment, industrialisation and services; development cooperation, technology, science and innovation/research; and political dialogue and advocacy.
The Council also approved, in principle, the processes, modalities and substance for negotiations with the EU for a successor partnership agreement. The Committee of Ambassadors was mandated to constitute a central negotiating group and technical negotiating groups to determine core guiding principles such as negotiating as one, securing a legally binding agreement, the single undertaking principle and maintaining the acquis of the Cotonou Agreement.
Decision 3: A third decision reaffirmed solidarity with the People and Government of Haiti, in light of recent natural disasters that devastated the nation. The ACP Council will dispatch a small delegation to Haiti to identify projects that could be supported by the ACP Group under the 11th European Development Fund.In addition to these decisions, the Council adopted two resolutions: on ACP Agricultural Commodity Trade and Sector Development; and on ACP-EU Economic Partnership Agreements.
In the first resolution, the Council made pronouncements on bananas, sugar, cotton, and cashew, welcoming the New Approach on support to development of Agricultural Value Chains, which targets small producers.Ministers cited concerns with trade agreements made by the European Union with competitors of ACP banana and sugar-producing countries, calling for minimum tariff rate quotas for banana and sugar imports. The Council called on the EU for collaboration to ensure minimal negative effects on ACP-EU trade, due to the impending departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union (“Brexit”).
In the second resolution, the Council reaffirmed its commitment to enhance ACP-EU trade relations, while appealing to the European Union to show flexibility in responding to concerns from ACP countries.This includes challenges in negotiations with Central Africa, Eastern Africa, and the Pacific. The Council reiterated concerns about the effects of Brexit negotiations on trade with ACP countries. It welcomed the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee meeting to be held on October 20, 2017, and called upon members to exhaustively tackle concerns related to economic partnership agreements. [IDN-InDepthNews – 6 May 2017]