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Civil society organisations from Africa, the Caribbean and Europe have called for equitable and transformative ACP-EU relations.
The region’s leading NGO on trade issues, the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) has supported the call at a time when the European Union has released its draft negotiating mandate for adoption by the EU members. The draft mandate comprises of the same list of issues that the EU has been seeking to impose on ACP (and other developing) countries in the aftermath of the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and throughout the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations.
Attempts to conclude the EPA negotiations, a key element of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) got stranded over the EU's predatory agenda. An agenda that sought to open up ACP economies for the free entry of European goods and free operation of European investors while undermining the capacity of ACP governments to give preferential support to domestic products, producers and investors. The EU’s promises to address the so-called “supply side constraints” and provide funds (aid) to meet the “adjustments costs” of EPAs turned out simply to be so many empty promises.
PANG Coordinator, Maureen Penjueli says due to relentless resistance from ever widening circles of citizens in ACP countries and in Europe, as well as by ACP governments and inter-governmental organisations worldwide, the EU agenda has been partially frustrated, with patchy outcomes of the EPA negotiations.
“In the Pacific, only Fiji and Papua New Guinea have interim EPA’s with Europe, while Samoa is in the process of acceding to the IEPAs. In 2014, negotiations collapsed between the PACP’s and EU, with the EU suspending negotiations over fisheries. While in Africa a few countries, including Nigeria and Tanzania, have refused to sign any form of the EPAs. Nevertheless, the entire process has been at immense cost to ACP countries, leading above all to new forms of regional incoherence among ACP countries.”
She says despite the acrimonious nature of EPA negotiations, it appears that the EU will attempt to resurrect and extend the failed paradigm and agenda of the current CPA into the future relationship between ACP countries and the EU.
“The new EU negotiating mandate continues to push for enhanced access for the protection of European investors in ACP countries, to undisturbed access to ACP resources, including for the Pacific fisheries and seabed minerals under a blue economy agenda,” argued Penjueli.
She added that like in the EPAs, the EU has given itself the prerogative of deciding the configuration of the ACP that it would prefer for the new agreement, adding, “if that is not bad enough, the EU wants to use the post-Cotonou agreement to bind the ACP into compulsory coordination and joint positioning in international organisations and meetings, including at the WTO where the EU’s predatory agenda has been detrimental to development aspirations of island countries such as the Pacific.”
“The ACP secretariat is only now scrambling to put together our own negotiating mandate and CSOs remain concerned that a possible mandate does not seem to arise from any strategic coherence among the ACP countries of a shared agenda for transforming their colonially constructed primary commodity economies that have been perpetuated in the essentially neo-colonial economic patterns with the EU.”
“Instead, such indicators for a mandate as contained in the documents such as the "ACP We Want" seem limited to a vision of a global role of improved versions of ACP institutional structures combined with vague principles of equality, defence of the Cotonou acquis, and so on.”
Given the rushed time frame for preparations and the launch of the negotiations, the relative unpreparedness of the ACP compared to the EU is likely to repeat the familiar template in which, rather than enter negotiations on autonomous self-determining terms, the ACP adjusts itself to the negotiating agenda of the EU and thereby reproduce the imbalances at the heart of earlier negotiations.
Penjueli stressed that a future relationship between ACP and EU cannot be built in such a manner, and an alternative approach is needed and is possible.
“As CSOs, we reject the attempts to resurrect and extend the failed paradigm and agenda of the current Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) into a future relationship between ACP countries and the EU. A future relationship between the ACP and the EU must be one that creates space and support for strategic initiatives in ACP countries, individually and collectively, to transform their primary commodity economies and industrialise, and adopt strategies for development based on the needs and priorities of the peoples therein.”
She says ACP CSOs are calling upon ACP countries to rise above their narrow and increasingly fruitless obsession with aid from the European Union already diminished in value, and increasingly transformed by EU into a means for promoting European corporate interests.
“They must concentrate on delivering on their long-standing obligation to their peoples of a vision and agenda for the inclusive, equitable and gender-sensitive transformation of their economies, driven by their own self-determined national and regional imperatives, built primarily on their human and natural (including marine) resources, and in a manner that best equips their societies to meet the challenges of our times. Only this can serve as a meaningful frame of reference for future engagement with the EU (and other third-party countries).”
The ACP CSOs have demanded the establishment of a structured mechanism to enable timely, effective and sustained participation by citizens and other stakeholders in the processes towards a post-Cotonou framework. The bloc also cautioned ACP countries not to allow themselves to be bounced unprepared into post-Cotonou negotiations and deals, for fear typically created by the EU of some vague consequences if a replacement framework was not immediately in place upon the expiry of the CPA.
The ACP CSO bloc has pledged to strengthen civil society solidarity across the ACP and reinforce their alliances with other social constituencies to work together in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe and globally to realise their demands.
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