Brussels, 10 April 2014/ ACP: A year shy of its 40th anniversary, having spent decades working to lift its people out of poverty, the 79-member African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) – the largest intergovernmental association of developing countries in existence – is undergoing a period of profound self-review.

An Eminent Persons Group (EPG), comprising of 12 distinguished personalities led by the former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, has been charged with gathering views from stakeholders across the six geographical regions of the ACP, as well as reviewing past successes and failures of the organisation.

They will submit proposals of how to reorient the ACP Group directly to Heads of State and Government by the end of the year.

We have to project forward to look at what do we think is the future of the ACP and what will its character look like. Will it be different from what we currently have? There have been a lot of changes of the world since the construct was created — do we have the right construct today?says Ms Patricia Francis, former head of the International Trade Centre in Geneva and chair of the Drafting Committee of the EPG.

The three-member Drafting Committee, which also includes former IMF Executive Director Mr Peter Gakunu of Kenya, and former Financial Secretary for Samoa Mr Kolone Vaái, met in Brussels this week to begin analysing information gained so far.

To date, the Eminent Persons have held comprehensive consultations in the Pacific, the Caribbean, West Africa, and Eastern Africa, with Southern and Central Africa to be organised before June. Meetings with EU officials, ACP Ambassadors and the staff of the ACP secretariat, were also held.

“Once there is clarity on the organisation’s vision, mission and objectives beyond 2020, the institutional framework for implementation should be considered as a matter of priority. Political commitment will be essential in terms of resources to fund the ACP Secretariat and its financial sustainability,” adds Mr Vaái.

“Amendments to the [ACP founding document] Georgetown Agreement to effect these reforms may be required.”

South South Cooperation, Trade

In general, the views shared at the EPG regional consultations have been optimistic. There is an overwhelming belief that the ACP Group should remain – the question is, in what form, and in which focus areas.

South-South cooperation has been a popular proposal. SSC – especially in terms of intra-ACP cooperation – involves the exchange resources, knowledge, technology and experience between or amongst developing countries, with the aim of fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development.

“There were views that the Caribbean and the Pacific had concrete experience in services and tourism industry that could really benefit the African countries,” explains Ms Francis, who hails from Jamaica.

“Some Caribbean countries also had extractive industries with perhaps had a better history of benefitting from these industries, out of which they can share best practices. Cultural and creative industries also jumped out as areas for potential trade and cooperation – West Africa has a big film and music industry for example.”

Mr Gakunu also underlined ACP Group’s achievements as a unit in global trade relations, based on his own first-hand experience. The Group was central in the discussions at Punta del Este, Marrakech, before the creation of the World Trade Organisation, as well as Doha, pushing for a better deal for developing countries.

But in contrast, he adds: “On the political side it’s been very difficult. One of the issues raised was the way the Group has never come together to deal with sensitive political issues, like the International Criminal Court cases.”

The question also remains of how to get enough political will as well as resources to see through an autonomous, self-sufficient organisation.

Mr Gakunu said the answer may lie in taking the focus away from the Brussels centre, where the ACP Secretariat is currently located, and from which the ACP Committee of Ambassadors operates: “We have to acknowledge is that if we continue dealing through the institutions we have had for 40 years, nothing will happen. It’s very difficult to reform from within. So my challenge is how do I convince each Head of State of the ACP to take the organisation seriously and move the agenda from Brussels?”

Changing global context

Indeed, the international arena has changed dramatically since the organisation’s 1975 launch in the midst of the Cold War, following a wave of decolonisation throughout the global South.

Now well into the 21st century, the world faces a plethora of challenges for the new age, with security, fuel, food, climate change and financial crises demanding a revamped approach to global collaboration.

Meanwhile, the EU has displayed a telling change in attitude towards the traditional ACP-EU relationship, with a shift towards multilateral development cooperation policy, and a tendency to deal African, Caribbean and Pacific regions separately rather than as a whole.

But while the renewal of the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement after 2020 is uncertain, there are those who are banking on the potential of the ACP Group beyond the EU.

“The collective strength of the ACP Group derives from decades of inter-regional solidarity, international trade negotiations, development finance cooperation, political dialogue and relations with other international organisations,” insists ACP Secretary General and former Foreign Affairs Minister of Ghana, H.E Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni.

“There is potential to build on this numeric strength to promote the collective cause of some of the poorest countries in the world, with opportunity to establish crucial alliances not only with Europe but with some of the emerging global players in the world economy.”

These initiatives have been further buoyed by the declaration of the 2012 Summit of ACP Heads of State and Government, which envisioned a “transformed ACP Group to become a major global player in supporting multilateralism that ensures peace, security, and democratic governance”. Internally, an ambassadorial Working Group on the Future Perspectives of the ACP, chaired by Ambassador Patrick I Gomes of Guyana has also been trying to enhance members’ solidarity with a view towards the future.

The ACP Group includes as members 40 of the world's 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), 36 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and 15 Landlocked LDC's. The road ahead depends on full ownership by the Member States and solid leadership to transform hopes into strategic action and results.

– Josephine Latu-Sanft, ACP Press