Does the Caribbean still need the ACP-EU relationship?
The 1975 Georgetown Agreement, which led to the formation of the ACP and formed the bedrock through which the former colonies of Europe were able to negotiate and implement, together, cooperation agreements with the European Community may, according to some political observers, have outlived its purpose.
They have argued that new initiatives by Europe will, in the future, undermine the Georgetown Agreement, signed in 1975 at the time the First Lome Convention came into force laying down the rules for cooperation between Europe and the countries of three regions – Africa, Caribbean and Pacific.
Caribbean watchers make particular reference to the manner in which Europe negotiated and signed the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) with the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries in 2008, instead of the customary single negotiation with the ACP as a bloc. Some African and Pacific countries are still holding out for the EPA for their regions.
EPA still a knotty issue
The main instrument governing EU-Caribbean trade is the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The essential features of that agreement provides for reciprocal trade benefits to Europe and the Caribbean and covers trade in goods and as well as in services. It provides for significant balance in the liberalization of trade between the two groups – with up to 25 to free up EU trade with the Caribbean.
It is a more balanced trade arrangement eventually, but its initial adjustment cost for the Caribbean countries has rendered tardy the implementation by most of those countries. Moreover, in the area of services, certain aspects - especially that of visa requirements for Caribbean nationals to enter the EU countries to “sell their services” - remain an area of uncertainty and limitation. The agency committed to providing access – the EU – is not able to guarantee it, as visa entry facilitation remains in EU national hands.
The full implementation of the EPA therefore remains somewhat problematic despite its undoubted promise.
Indeed there are scholars, and even veteran EU-ACP observers, who have felt that once the Cotonou Agreement – the trade, aid and development mechanism that currently links the 79 ACP countries to Europe – comes to an end in 2020, Europe will put into place its own strategy, which it has signalled on numerous occasions, for future relations with the Caribbean and by extension the ACP grouping.
Moving beyond tradition
It is a situation that has not been lost on the Caribbean which has not hidden its desire to go “beyond” its traditional friends in Europe. In that regard, it has spoken, for example, of the need to embrace the so-called BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – acknowledging , according to St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony that “the gales and harmattans of global politics and economics mean that we must be willing to venture through waters unchartered”.
In addition, the Caribbean has sought closer relations with Latin America and Central American countries, some of which are grouped in organisations such as CELAC (the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and Mercosur, the Common Market of the South being the most widely known among them.
When he served as chairman of the ACP Ministerial Council, St. Lucia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alva Baptiste called for a united approach in dealing with Europe in the new dispensation. Baptiste acknowledged that it was necessary for the 79 ACP countries to defend their national interest and to promote the perspectives of home governments. They must also at the same time keep before them a “vision of the common good and our sense of collective destiny and purpose”.
The ACP, on its part, has also indicated its commitment to preparing for a relationship which goes beyond the EU as it had been in the past. To this end, it has established an Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP, which is led by Guyana’s Ambassador to the ACP in Brussels, Dr. Patrick Gomes. The group is mandated to explore various alternative scenarios and to submit suggestions for repositioning of the ACP within the global arena. It has up to the end of 2014 to complete its work.
It is in that vein that the former ACP Secretary-General, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has spoken of the need to “reinvent the ACP as a meaningful player on the world stage”. This hope was fully reflected in the Outcome Document of the seventh ACP Summit held in Equatorial Guinea last December – the Sipopo Declaration. That Summit was held with the expectation that it would have provided an opportunity to consolidate the achievements of the Grouping, while mapping the path to a more viable future.
Chambas had hoped for a strong Caribbean showing at the Summit, in terms of government leaders. However, the only Caribbean Head of Government present at the summit was Prime Minister Anthony, who was then chairman of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping. Barbados (Senator Maxine McClean), Guyana (Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett) and Trinidad and Tobago (Winston Dookeran) were also represented at Foreign Ministerial Levels. Caribbean governments, faced with scarce financial resources, have often looked to their diplomats based in Europe to be their faces within the ACP-EU partnership.
Areas to improve
There are, however, aspects that have not worked very well. The European Development Fund (EDF), for example, has been strong on the public sector but rather weak in the area of private sector development.
In August, for example, Dominica announced that it would receive EC$29.1 million (One EC dollar = US$0.37 cents) under the 10th EDF multi-sector Budget Support Programme which is designed to support the government in implementing the national development plan. The sum is to be disbursed over a three year period, based on fulfilling general conditions on macroeconomic stability, progress on public financial management reforms and implementation of the national development plan.
But while financing instruments such as budget support have been well received by Caribbean countries, concerns have been raised about their long-term development effectiveness.
A question of comparable advantage
David Jessop, director of the London-based Caribbean Council, has noted a recently published paper by the German Development Institute and European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) titled “Towards Renewal or Oblivion”, which reviews the prospects for continuing a single cooperation arrangement between Europe and the ACP, as against the multi-regional approach made possible by the Cotonou Agreement.
The paper makes clear what has been apparent - that Europe prefers a regional approach to its external relations - a factor highlighted by the EU's decision to bring into being region-specific Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). As noted by Jessop, the paper highlights the fact that, as the Caribbean already knows, the Pacific and Caribbean elements of the ACP are not seen in Europe's capitals as anywhere near as important as Africa. The Pacific for instance, is largely considered a matter best left to the strategic interest of the nations on the Pacific Rim.
The report may well give credence to suggestions that have been long floated about, that in re-inventing itself, the ACP must not seek to replicate what others are doing but concentrate on those niche areas where it enjoys a high comparative advantage.
In this context, the ACP recently launched studies on the feasibility of opening a trade and investment bank as well as a free trade area. This is not the first occasion on which such a proposal was raised among the ACP countries. There was an earlier initiative for an ACP Bank by one Antoine Yameogo – a national of Burkina Faso – which did not gain widespread support. The proposed ACP Bank for International Trade and Investment (BITI) is intended to address gaps in existing financing methods which prevent valid projects from being realised. The key areas would be infrastructure, trade, small, medium and micro-enterprises and large industrial projects.
So far, the Caribbean has not publicly endorsed the BITI. It is still grappling with its own trading arrangements and their implications. *
The views expressed are entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the ACP Group or any of its member states, the ACP Secretariat or the ACP Eminent Persons Group.