Secretary General – Assistant Secretaries General – Distinguished Ambassadors – Distinguished ladies and gentlemen. Let me start by expressing sincere gratitude to my Colleague CARIFORUM Ambassadors for their unwavering support to Saint Lucia as it assumes chairmanship of the ACP Council of Ministers. I also am grateful to Colleague ACP Ambassadors for the trust that you have bestowed on me by allowing me to serve this Committee as its Chairperson for the next six months.

Colleagues, as I begin my term of service I am aware that I have a daunting task ahead of me: first to maintain the high standard of my esteemed predecessor who so ably steered this eminent group throughout a period of global, political and institutional challenges. To the Ambassador of Uganda I once again express hearty congratulations for his astute Chairmanship and also his wisdom that was always evident during the last semester.

The second task is equally staggering, that is, to continue to ensure that the extensive workload of the ACP and its various subcommittees, working groups and joint institutions is advanced throughout this period. I urge chairs and members of these important ACP bodies to prioritise, coordinate and focus their endeavours so that we could have tangible achievements within the agreed timescales.

I however, remain hopeful and unfazed by the challenges, though they are numerous. I believe that during my term of office as your Chair, and on behalf of Saint Lucia, one of the OECS Member States that I represent, we will continue the work of supporting the foundations and concretizing the vision of the ACP Group, to consolidate its acquis and to strengthen the relations between the three components of the A, C, and P in order to respond to the immediate and future challenges that face us collectively. This is why I propose that the theme for the next six months be as follows: Renewing the vision of the ACP Group through Solidarity & Consolidation.

Colleagues, the global development paradigm within which we have been operating since the signing of the Lomé Convention in 1975 until now, has made a tectonic shift that has changed the face of international cooperation as we once knew it. While old players are still vying for centre stage through a display of both hard and soft power, newer players-on-the-block have gained with time and effort, influence and recognition as incontrovertible interlocutors. The historic ties and shared values that link us to our European partner and are the foundation of our partnership are increasingly being tested, and new strategies deployed by the EU seem to confirm this trend. The global scene does seem ominous: ODA flows are not as abundant as before; the pervasive feeling that we may not be on track for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; the Doha impasse; sand in the international climate change negotiating machinery; the questions that surround aid effectiveness; the recessive effects and other social ramifications of the current financial and economic crisis; and the list goes on. It is at this point that I believe that it is useful to remember that old African proverb that states “when the music changes, so must the dance.”

In order to be viable in this era of uncertainty, the ACP Group needs to redefine its relevance in the rapidly evolving international environment. Much of the progress that we will be able to make will be determined by how we see ourselves. The ACP Group of States is the largest trans-regional intergovernmental organization of developing countries. This Group has remained intact over a period of 35 years during which the international global order has experienced radical change in political and economic terms. It has to its advantage decades of inter-regional solidarity on various global issues such as trade, development finance, political dialogue and relations with other international and regional organisations. This CV is reason enough to maintain and reinforce the Group at this global crossroads of change and opportunity.

My vision of the ACP Group is that of a strong and dynamic institution, with no apprehension about its future. For this to be achieved, we need to work very hard to guarantee the continuity of the Group beyond 2020. Thus we need to throw all our weight behind the efforts of the Working Group on future perspectives of the ACP as it reflects on the modus operandi of a renewed ACP that has been repositioned to take advantage of the opportunities that come with change.

Also, as we look inwards, we must acknowledge that we are the vectors of our own change. Thus, the strategic management plan for renewal and transformation of our organization should be pursued at all costs despite a “slowdown in cooperation and a challenging geopolitical environment,” so as to foster real and tangible deliverables for our nearly 800 million citizens.

As regards the VII Summit of ACP Heads of State to take place later this year, Ministers have endorsed the proposal, and preparations are underway for its organization. Colleagues, we must bring these substantive issues to the table for decision and political guidance. I therefore personally commit to using the next six months to work on identifying and highlighting our concerns, for, it is clear that if we succeed in fixing our geopolitical orientations at Malabo, we will have little difficulty in determining the next steps for the future of our organization, and our Group would be made even stronger.

Colleagues, we note with concern the dichotomy that exists between the endowment of natural resources and their real impact on sustainable development in our countries. There is this nagging paradox that begs a response: that is, some of the most resource-endowed countries in the world are some of the poorest, and many of these are in our ACP constituency. We are in dire need of a global governance system that protects and supports us in managing our own resources so that our peoples are the main beneficiaries. We need to come out with strong positions and promote our vision at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in June. Thus, our commitment to the work of the ACP Ad Hoc Working Group on Rio will determine the strength of our solidarity on international affairs with a global scope, through our unified positions during that Conference. Rio +20 will also allow for concrete realization of the Istanbul Action Plan of 2011 on LDCs. In addition it will focus on the specific concerns of small-island developing states and landlocked and low-lying countries, which are equal in terms of the impact of climate change, whose effects will spare neither man nor nation. We therefore need to reflect together on the essentials of our participation and then promote the concerns and interests of the ACP Group in the appropriate fora.

The ACP Group has a comparative advantage: we represent a very large development and investment partner and the fact that we are the largest trans-regional inter-governmental organization of developing countries attests to our potential collective strength. With this in mind, we can consider proposals to take on new challenges such as the diversification of our cooperation partners. But in our search to diversify our partnerships, we must ensure that our priorities are taken into account. Thus, it is essential to continue the reflection process on deepening South-South cooperation which we began some years ago. It is inevitable that our group as a whole will weave closer relations with the other developed and developing countries and regions including Members of the G20, BRICS and other global growth generators. We should therefore be prepared to take on all opportunities to speak with one voice in multilateral fora on all issues of critical concern to us as we increasingly become an international force to reckon with. I hope therefore to work with you to consolidate these aspirations of the Group as we move forward.

Colleagues, we face an international environment that is contrary and sometimes even hostile to our objectives for sustainable development. This external volatility and pressure mandate us to strengthen our association and relations with each other. There is a general feeling that the introduction of the EPAs and consequential division along regional lines of the ACP Group shook its solidarity. Further, the recent Commission proposal to withdraw 18 ACP countries from the list of beneficiaries of preferences under Regulation 1528/2007 as of 1 January 2014, could also be seen as a threat to the stability of the group. Colleagues, there are other equally disquieting undercurrents such as the issues of differentiation and graduation that target the economic vitality and the future development of some, but which could have the effect of undermining our united front. We should not accept coercion as a substitute for cooperation. However, on all these matters, we must speak boldly with one voice, and with shared conviction. Thus, I see this as a call to reaffirm ACP unity and solidarity, and I remain convinced that this is a challenge that we can face together, and that you can count on me to pursue during the next six months and beyond.

This brings me back to the theme which I propose for my Chairmanship: Renewing the vision of the ACP Group through Solidarity & Consolidation.

We are unique in our composition and history. We are also unique in our attributes. We are not together by mere chance, and though some may see our heterogeneity as a reason for dislocation of the ACP Group, I beg to differ, for we share more in common than any other geopolitical grouping in world right now. We have even more reason to strengthen our political and cultural ties not least because of our own Diasporan relationship that should be seen as a central element in our global repositioning strategies. This may also be an opportunity for the ACP Group to consider working towards the establishment of a platform for cooperation with OCTs and ORs for which provision is made in the Second Revision of the Cotonou Agreement and also in the EDF budget, as this can provide opportunities to leverage much needed financial and political support for the betterment of all.

Once again I thank you for entrusting this role of Chair of its Committee of Ambassadors and President of the ACP Council of Ministers to Saint Lucia. We will execute this assignment with utmost care and consideration. I eagerly look forward to your collaboration and support as we take on the challenges of finding and establishing our niche on the current geopolitical stage.

I thank you.

H.E Shirley Skerrit-Andrew
Ambassador of Saint Lucia to the Kingdom of Belgium and the European Union

9 February 2012