16 December 2012

Africa: ACP Countries Vow to Reposition Organisation

Heads of State and Government of ACP left Malabo hoping that the future would be better in spite of differences with the European Union.

Heads of State and Government from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries who attended the 7th Summit of the organisation in Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea from 13-14 December 2012 have taken the firm commitment to give a new lease of life to the institution while insisting on negotiated agreement with the European Union (EU) that does not seek to create division within the ACP. Perhaps, the most important outcome of the 7th ACP Summit could be the creation of an ACP Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to work during 2013-14 to come out with new ideas and concepts to further strengthen the organization and provide guidance for the future.

President Paul Biya, who joined his peers on the shores of Sipopo in Malabo on 12 December 2012, left the Summit on Friday 14 December after making vital contributions at the closed door panel discussions intended to reshape the future of the ACP. Meeting on the theme: "The Future of the ACP Group in a Changing World: Challenges and Opportunities", the summit set out to be a milestone for the 79-member bloc, which includes 40 Least Developed Countries and 36 Small Island Developing States.

At the official opening ceremony on 13 December, seven speakers took turns to point out the difficulties faced by the ACP especially by 2020 when the Cotonou Agreement that has guided relations between the ACP and its strategic partner, the EU, comes to an end. Furthermore, for about a decade now, the ACP has been at cross roads with Europe over an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which partly calls for the lifting of customs barriers for goods imported from the EU negotiated on a country-by country basis. Such a move not only deprives most ACP countries of vital revenue needed for development projects, but it also creates division among ACP nations at a time when the trend ought to be towards developing South-South cooperation.

ACP countries are equally keen on moving away from the posture of receptacle that would always move cap in hand in search of aid from Europe. Although the Malabo Declaration was still being when the Summit ended on Friday, the Council of Ministers' meeting that held from 10-11 December, set the tone of events in its final resolutions. It "called on the European Union to refrain from taking any action that could have a seriously adverse effect on ACP economies."

The resolution and other statements was in contrast to the speech by the EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs who pointed out at the opening ceremony that, "We should not shy away from the fact that our approach to trade relations with your countries has met with challenges and has not been supported by all. We however, remain convinced that our approach is the best way to promote trade and development in ACP countries and to encourage regional integration, leading to integration into the world economy."

Yet, the ACP countries have been adamant that while wanting to keep ties with the EU that are guided by history, culture and geography, they must be able to look for new partners like the BRICS countries (i.e. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Host President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo stated clearly at a press conference to close the summit on Friday that ACP nations are not going to the negotiating table empty handed. He said they have raw material that can help the EU out of the current economic crisis and in return, the ACP must be able to have the transfer of technology that can facilitate the processing of raw material within its countries.

The urge to ensure that any viable economic partner must be ready to help ACP nations to progress must have accounted for the insistence on "environment, climate change, food security and rural development in the ACP countries," as a key issue on the agenda of the Malabo Summit. On this issue, like the question of the future of the ACP, President Paul Biya insisted that while pursuing cooperation with the EU, ACP countries had to keep in mind the importance of South-South cooperation and outsourcing with other international development partners.

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