I thank you very much for the opportunity bring afforded to address you for the first time as Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States. As the President has stated, I have been keenly following the work of your Assembly and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly for some time now – a decade to be precise. The parliamentarians have always been a source of inspiration – in particular, I recall a phrase used by the representative from Uganda – that the ACP now has a GPS to set our direction.

Mr. President,

As I stated when I made my inaugural address to the ACP Committee of Ambassadors just two weeks ago, 2015 marks a momentous milestone in the life of the ACP Group; it is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Group on 6 June 1975 in Georgetown, Guyana.

As if by the irony of history, it is to Guyana and the Caribbean that falls this responsibility to embrace the challenges of the ACP Group at this critical moment in our history. I wish to submit, however, that my role is to build upon the pillars of the founding fathers and mothers of the organization and others who through the last four decades, have helped shape our orientation as well as our relations with the European Union and other groupings globally.

Mr. President,

We have had the privilege to be led and guided by illustrious men and women, Heads of State, Ministers, Parliamentarians, Ambassadors, and Staff of the Secretariat in forging our solidarity from the initial 46 countries in 1975 to 79 today, and soon we expect to be 80 with the not-too-soon admission and ratification by South Sudan. It is no mean achievement to have experienced this kind of growth during a time of major political upheavals as well as financial and geopolitical constraints which could have so easily led us down a path of disintegration. In the same span of time, the membership of the EU, our principal partner, has grown from the 9 that signed the first Lomé convention in 1975 to 28 Member States today.

The EU has also witnessed several structural changes as it reformed its decision making processes, competencies and legal personality, which have also had implications on relations with the ACP Group. If we have weathered so many challenges in the past, I am equally certain that the Group is capable of doing so much more now and for the future. Our peoples depend on us.

Mr. President,

Our 40th anniversary should therefore be a time of reflection and introspection both about where we have come from and the direction we should take for the future. The process of reflection began as far back at 2006, when a number of initiatives were discussed with regard to the reform of the Secretariat and the future of the ACP Group. You have been regularly updated on the work of the Ambassadorial Working Group on the Future Perspectives of the ACP and that of the Eminent Persons Group. I recall in particular a session I had in 2011 from which I benefitted tremendously in the exchange with no less than 10 or 12 parliamentarians.

Mr. President,

In view of the above, my tenure of office will essentially be a transitional and repositioning preparatory period for the future of the ACP Group beyond 2020. However, even as I say this, we must remember that the Constitutive Act of the ACP Group – Georgetown Agreement, has its own life outside of ACP-EU relations. This should help us put the expiry of the Cotonou Agreement into proper perspective. Indeed, the EU has indicated, as have indeed the ACP Council of Ministers, the desire to continue and strengthen this relationship. However, we also recognise that it is imperative for the ACP Group to widen its partnerships beyond the EU and embrace the Global South.

Mr. President,

I am well cognizant of the fact that the ambition of the Group must take into account ever evolving global dynamics. There are other international organisations pursuing similar objectives as ours. But I wish to submit that in many respects, we have a comparative institutional advantage, one that has been successful in converging disparate geographical, cultural and linguistic and historical differences into a Group bound as we are by common notions of solidarity, that we must put into action.

This should give us the conviction to speak with one voice in the global community of nations and to demonstrate the maturing self-confidence and self-determination that we possess.

Mr. President,

Based on the deliberations we have had on the future perspectives of the Group, certain elements stand out. Let me list a few of these. First of all, in terms of strategic policy domains, the focus will be on the following: promoting trade, industry and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; supporting global justice and human security; advancing the rules of law and good governance; and financing for development.

In order to achieve these ambitions, our institutional architecture will have to be radically reformed and transformed based on the following premises and needs:

First, we need to re-orient our Group and the Secretariat as a knowledge management institution that shall nourish the understanding and conceptualisation of our development programmes. Second, we are aware of need to avoid duplication with other like-minded ACP organisations, and that is why I would like to see the ACP Group become an inter-regional organisations coordinating hub.

Third and related to the above point, the ACP Group will build on its experience in ACP-EU development partnership to become a facilitator for international development cooperation. Fourth and even more critical to the success of all the other elements is the issue of financial sustainability. For this purpose, we shall pursue the idea of an ACP Trade Finance and Investment Facility and a long-term Development Fund. This will be based on endowment or endowments from a growing number of wealthy citizens and companies in the ACP family will be called upon to support our intra-ACP regional and global initiatives.

Mr. President,

I should hasten to add that in the above transformative agenda that I have outlined, we shall seek to preserve and enhance the participatory nature of our governance mechanisms to ensure that we not only remain relevant and accountable to our people, but that we also increase the democratic legitimacy of our actions. Who better than you, as parliamentarians, will ensure this reality? Hence, there is need to enhance the role and impact of the ACP Parliamentary Assembly and the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly – this unique gem of the institutional architecture of the ACP Group of States.

Mr. President,

The main trust of the ACP Secretariat is serving the ACP Member States through the ACP Group organs and the ACP-EU Joint Institutions in order to preserve the interests of the entire Group. A cost-conscious and highly accountable, professional Secretariat is indispensable to the maintenance of ACP solidarity, which in turn is a prerequisite to making joint action possible for efficiency, effectiveness, visibility, political relevance, regional development and advancement of the interests of the ACP Group in an evolving turbulent global environment.

At the core of our joint action will be South South and Triangular cooperation. This will demonstrate ACP’s exceptional competence in health, for example, and Cuba comes to mind most recently in its response to the ebola epidemic outbreak in West Africa; in commodities – cotton, rice, sugar, and coco for example – to which we have to add value and see the returns come primarily to our countries; in upholding the rule of law and increasing the wealth of our mineral resources that retain maximum benefits in our countries; and in the enormous talent and ingenuity in technology, in music, in art and literature. All these human endeavours have lessons to enrich the lives of our peoples. Let us draw on them and do it together.

I thank you very much and I wish you full success in all your deliberations.

Dr. Patrick I. Gomes
Secretary General