BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Mar 26, CMC – A two-day inter-regional high level consultation on comparative regionalism in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (ACP) began here on Tuesday with Barbados underscoring the need for the 79-member grouping to build a strong, vibrant and energetic relationship among themselves especially in a changing global environment.
“We are presented with the unique opportunity to examine the relationship between the ACP and the European Union, but we are also examining our own relationship as the ACP given the current realities,” Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands, told the opening ceremony of the conference, dubbed the “Inter-Regional High Level Consultation; Comparative Regionalism in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific”.
Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands (File Photo)
She told delegates, including the ACP Secretary General Dr. P.I. Gomes, that the grouping needed to ask how it wishes to position itself in a rapidly changing global environment.
“What is the brand and image that we wish to portray as the ACP, a union of diverse economies and regions? It is my desire that as we seek to answer these questions, we give tangible expression to ways in which we can forge deeper links among each of our regions and further unlock the potential existing in each of our economies,” she said.
The conference is being organised by the Brussels-based ACP Secretariat, the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), the University of Johannesburg, South Africa and the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services.
The organisers said that the two-day event is also expected to include a brainstorming session on revisions to the ACP Secretariat’s foundation document, The Georgetown Agreement that established the grouping in 1975.
Among the topics for discussions include “Continental Regionalism: The African Union; Regionalism in Eastern, Southern and Western Africa, Regionalism in the Pacific; Regionalism and the future of ACP-EU relations.
In her address, Husbands said the existing global environment necessitates that “we rethink our trade and development strategies, as well as carefully select our allies.
She said this is especially in light of the challenges faced due to pressure being applied to many of the small states to conform to the rules which place them at a disadvantage.
“A major plank of the strategy lies in ourselves. Our achievements thus far can be attributed largely in part to the solidarity which existed and continues to exist among our regions. This is a partnership which can become a driving force in the international community.
“This strengthened solidarity can allow us to confront other countries on issues which are of import to all our regions. This is why we all signed on to the Georgetown Agreement in 1975. To date, we speak collectively in our engagements with the European Union and in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), she said.
Husbands told the meeting that the world has changed considerably since the launching of the Lomé Agreement 44 years ago that linked the EU and the ACP.
“We have seen new players emerge offering development assistance; rich countries forming bodies which seek to dictate what our tax rates should be; rich countries seeking to determine whether smaller players in the market, such as some of our ACP states, are eligible for grant or concessionary financing based on what I consider a flawed methodology”.
She said that the formation of a regulatory body which oversees the global trading environment has led to the ACP countries embracing these changes as part of the global community and this is despite the “deleterious effects some of these changes are having on our economies.
“We seek to play by the rules while minimising the negative effects. This strategy is not always effective. I am therefore led to believe that where we can develop political alliances among ourselves; where we can create linkages with regard to our export and import trade; and where we can come together and offer assistance in various critical areas, for example, health, education, disaster preparedness, among other areas, we would be in a better position to tackle some of these negative policies.
“Let us not forget that many of these policies can have serious implications for growth in our economies as well as job creation. These policies negatively impact our citizens. With our numbers we can certainly have a serious input on the agenda within many international fora.”
Husbands said that there are issues confronting the ACP at the international level, which would benefit from collective intervention, citing as an example, climate change. She said many countries are facing a dilemma in this area.
“Some of us continue to experience rising sea levels and temperatures, severe drought and desertification as well as some of the most severe hurricanes not witnessed in decades. We, as the ACP, must continue to push the envelope and influence the minds of those sceptics whose doubts only ensure the continued destruction of our countries. We have done it before in Paris, with the help of the EU, we cannot give up the fight now.”
She said she also firmly believes that as a group, the ACP is in a position to skilfully put forward its cases and get a positive result on the graduation policies which have been implemented by some of EU partners,.
She said the policy, which largely focuses on the levels of gross domestic product, (GDP) fails to take the vulnerability of the ACP countries into consideration “and for this reason, I have said in many fora that it is a flawed policy.
“We need to continue the conversation in order to sensitise our developed partners about our special peculiarities,” she said, adding that the same holds true for the continued crisis facing the grouping with regards to its international business sector.
“Many of us have worked diligently to become competitive through the establishment of transparent regimes for international entities. Many of us, despite our limited resources, strive to be compliant with our international obligations in this area. Yet, we are labelled as tax havens when, in many instances, we are low tax jurisdictions. What is clear is that our sovereignty in setting our tax rates appears to be under threat.”
Husbands said in the area of trade, the ACP must also strive to do more among themselves.
“What is critical for the development of trade is, first and foremost, our transport links,” she said, adding “we have the goods, services and most of all the market of potential buyers.
“What some of us do not have is the means to transport these vital commodities. This must be addressed. We need to take a close look at the status quo and orchestrate some changes. The ACP of today must also seek to build a strong, vibrant and energetic relationship among ourselves especially given that we have so much in common.”
Husbands said most of the ACP member states have endured a colonial past which they have sought to use to their advantage.
“Like all countries, we are all striving for sustainable growth and development. I therefore see our destinies inextricably intertwined. We are basically seeking the same things, which are ensuring poverty eradication in our countries and pursuing a sustainable growth and development model tied to the Sustainable Development Goals.”
She said one way of ensuring this sustainable growth and development strategy is through a comprehensive review of the ACP trade.
She said statistics reveal that Barbados’ trade with some of ACP partners is virtually non-existent and that for the period 2018 period the island’s import and export trade respectively with Ghana was BDS$243,078 and BDS$14,638 (One Barbados dollar=US$0.50 cents).
She said the import and export trade with Nigeria was also almost non-existent and with Tuvalu it was BDS$27,767 in respect of imports and nothing for exports.
“These are but a few countries within the ACP with which Barbados trades. The statistics are not encouraging. Given the length of time which our grouping has been together, I put it to you that our trade should have been more expansive,” she said, adding that further studies must be conducted to allow a determination of what are the main hindrances to trade among ACP members.