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79-Nation ACP Group Set to Become a Global Player

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By Ramesh Jaura | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis

Fiji Prime Minister
Voreqe Bainimarama
Lesotho Finance Minister
Dr. 'Mamphono Khaketla
ACP Secretary General
Dr Patrick I. Gomes

BERLIN | BRUSSELS (IDN) - The 79-nation group of Afrian, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries is determined to become a global player within and outside the United Nations system and at the same time bring the Brussels-based Secretariat closer to the seven ACP regions by participating in regional summits, on-going discussions within the group reveal.

The seven ACP regions are: West Africa; Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), East African Community (EAC), Southern African Development Community (SADC); the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The consultations under way indicate that while 2015 promises to go down as a landmark year in the history of the group that is characterised by a multitude of diverse and yet identical interests, ACP countries have set ambitious goals for 2016.

This is underlined also by reflections commemorating the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Georgetown Agreement – which established the ACP Group – and the United Nations’ 70th anniversary. The discussions have been set forth at the ACP Council of Ministers that concluded its 102nd session on November 25, 2015.

Addressing the Council of Minister, ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick I. Gomes said: “We strongly believe that the ambition of the group must take into account ever evolving and turbulent global dynamics. To deepen this awareness and increase the visibility of the Group, the Secretariat has taken part in various international fora of the ACP Group to become an effective global player.”

He added. “Efforts have also been made to place the Secretariat closer to the ACP regions by participating in regional summits. We were particularly heartened to be in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, for the regional summit of the Pacific.”

Gomes stressed that, while 2015 is significant as it marks the fortieth anniversary of the ACP Group, 2016 also will be an enormously important year in the history of the ACP. “This is primarily because our Leaders are expected to make definitive pronouncements regarding the future direction and structure of the Group and its organs.”

Such pronouncements, he added, would follow the Seventh Summit of ACP heads of State and Government in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, in 2012 that unequivocally reaffirmed the position that the ACP must remain united as a group. “Both the ACP Group on the one hand, and the European Union on the other, have begun a process of consultation and reflection regarding our future relations beyond 2020. These will gather momentum in the course of 2016,” the ACP Secretary General said.

The ACP Council of Ministers’ President, Dr. Mamphono Khaketla, the Finance Minister of Lesotho, declared: “As we continue the fundamental exercise of charting the future of the ACP Group, it is very important that we remain steadfast in adhering to the principles of unity and solidarity that are enshrined in the Georgetown Agreement, which is the foundation of our very existence.”

She added: “I must say that this year in particular, with so many international events, provided the perfect opportunity for the Group to enhance its visibility and initiate beneficial ties with relevant global partners in pursuit of overarching objective of repositioning the Group as an effective global player. In these efforts, we should remain positive in our consideration of the future relations with our traditional partner, the European Union...”

The Council approved the offer from Papua New Guinea to host the 8th Summit in its capital city Port Moresby from May 30 to June 1, 2016 under the title: ‘Repositioning the ACP Group to respond to the challenges of Sustainable Development’. The Summit is expected to pronounce a clear direction on the future of the ACP Group as an organisation, in terms of how it delivers on the sustainable development goals of its Member States and populations, as well as the future partnership between the ACP countries and the European Union.

According to the ACP Secretariat, the Summit will also consider recommendations for organisational reforms, informed by the report of the ACP Eminent Persons Group chaired by former President of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, which is due in early 2016, and that of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives, which was approved by the Council in December 2014.

The Council of Ministers not only endorsed the preparations for the 8th Summit, but also made 13 decisions, adopted four resolutions and two declarations on several other key issues.

Climate Change

The ACP Council of Ministers reaffirmed that the adverse impact of climate change threatens the very survival of the 79 ACP countries, and poses immediate and long-term significant risks to their sustainable development efforts.

In run-up to the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) from November 30 to December 11, the Council declared that the new agreement expected be adopted at the conference must be a legally binding agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Ministers also urged developed countries to take the lead in further reducing greenhouse gas emissions to support efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees below pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The Council emphasised the need to scale up climate finance, and highlighted other issues of concern in an ACP Issues Paper, which was endorsed to support Member States in their negotiations at COP21.

According to the ACP Secretariat, the Prime Minister of the Pacific Island nation of Fiji, Voreqe Bainimarama, welcomed the EU’s commitment to a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2030. He also announced Fiji’s pledge to cut its own emissions by 30% by 2030, despite the fact that the small island country contributes only 0.004% to global levels.

“We are still willing to play our part… But those nations that are baulking at drastic action – what I have called the coalition of the selfish – need to be prodded out of their complacency. It is five minutes to midnight and soon it will be too late,” Prime Minister Bainimarama declared.

He added: “We need the industrial nations to realise that if they don’t act, it will be to their ultimate cost. Embrace a more sustainable energy future now and the pain will be far less than having to do it later. Embracing a clean, green future [is a] a selling point for any nation in a world that increasingly values sustainable development.”

Agriculture Commodity Trade

The Council welcomed the European Commission’s indication that no further tariff liberalisation will be granted to EU trade partners who are direct competitors of ACP countries on the banana market. It also welcomed the signal that the special safeguard clause set out in EU Market Access Regulation 1528/07 and in the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) cannot be used to discriminate against imports of ACP sugar, but only as an indicator of possible market disturbance. At the same time, they urged the European Commission to refrain from a direct intervention in sugar market supply arrangements. They also expressed concern about an on-going public debate that might encourage buyers to hold back unnecessarily.

Economic Partnership Agreements

In another resolution, the Council of Ministers reiterated that the conclusion and implementation of EPAs between the ACP regions and the EU must be balanced, with a view to speeding up sustainable and inclusive development of ACP countries.

The Council reaffirmed the need for additional EU resources, set up in special EPA Funds, while also increasing aid for trade financing. To date, the Caribbean region (CARIFORUM) is the only one currently implementing a full EPA with the EU, while the Southern African Development Community EPA Group, the East Africa Community, and West Africa have completed negotiations for full EPAs, to be signed and ratified by October 2016. At the same time, several other countries are already implementing interim EPAs at the bilateral level. The ACP Council thus called on the EU to speed up EPA negotiations with the remaining regions.

The Council also endorsed the Declaration by the ACP Trade Ministers on the 10th WTO (World Trade Organization) Ministerial Conference, to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from December 15-18. The document calls on the organization’s member countries to affirm their commitment to the Doha Development Agenda, in particular on the core areas in the negotiations that are important to developing countries.

Cuba-U.S. relations

In an important declaration, the ACP Council of Ministers expressed “solidarity with the Government and people of Cuba in its struggle against the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.

The Council welcomed the decision by the U.S. to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. It also urged the international community “to continue its support for the immediate and unconditional lifting of sanctions imposed on Cuba”.

The Council further called for “the unconditional repeal of unilateral and unjustified economic embargoes placed against other ACP countries, which harms the innocent, poor and vulnerable populations of these countries”.

The ACP Council of Ministers said that it recognises the "significant role played by Cuba in the struggle for freedom and liberation of the people from the scourge of colonialism and apartheid".

The Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) recalled in a report that the Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders welcomed the “new chapter” in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after President Barack Obama announced on July 1, 2015 the re-establishment of diplomatic relations as well as an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba.

Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been frozen since January 1961 – seven months before the president was born. Obama declared an end to America's "outdated approach" to the communist island in a historic shift that aims to bring an end to a half-century of Cold War enmity.

Obama and the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, made simultaneous announcements in their respective capitals announcing the moves to normalise the diplomatic relations that were broken after Fidel Castro established the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere after leading an overthrow of the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Washington imposed a trade and economic embargo on the island following the move by Castro and Caribbean governments joined several international countries in denouncing the move.

When 77 ACP countries signed the Cotonou Agreement (named after Benin’s largest city) on June 23, 2000, Cuba – a candidate to the Agreement was unable to sign it. Nonetheless, the ACP Group decided to include Cuba, in the hope that the problems that prevented its accession to the ACP-EU partnership would be resolved in “the near future” – that, as it turned out, dawned 15 years later.

The last country to become a member of the ACP Group was Timor Leste – affiliated with the Pacific region. It became an ACP Member-State in 2003, shortly after its independence. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 November 2015]

Photo: Council of Ministers | Credit: ACP

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