INTERVIEW: EEAS interview with ACP Secretary General
Brussels, 25 January 2016/ ACP:As the post-Cotonou discussions intensifies, editor of the European External action Service (EEAS) Newsletter on EU-Africa affairs Africa YEEAS!,Mr.José Costa-Perreira discusses ACP outlooks on ACP-EU relations with Secretary General Dr. Patrick I. Gomes. The following interview was originally published in the January 2016 edition of the newsletter.
EEAS: My first question would be about the ACP group. It is 40 years old, very visible in Brussels, undoubtedly, but according to many observers less so in other places like New York or Geneva. Why is that so, why does it not appear as a bloc outside Brussels, what are its strengths and its shortcomings?
Secretary General: Indeed, the principal interlocutor with the ACP Group is the EU through the unique Agreement underpinning a comprehensive model of political, economic, social, cultural and trading relations between 79 developing and the 28 developed EU countries. So visibility in Brussels is obvious. Additionally, the ACP is very visible in Geneva as a central pillar of the G90, which comprises the ACP Group, the African Group and the LDC Group. The 2013 WTO Bali Ministerial Declaration on the Trade Facilitation Agreement benefitted from the influence and pivotal role of the ACP.
Visibility in Brussels comes from extensive engagements with European organisations; EEAS being the more recent. The rationale of our existence was the challenge of Lome's negotiations that brought us together, initially 46 countries, to increase our bargaining power. Major focus has been on many trade and development issues but a political discourse is on-going through the Joint ACP-EU Council of Ministers.
Our strength as ACP lies in a) our representational capacity and advocacy role for 79 developing countries; b) the convening authority, access and influence for consensus-building on policy and governance mechanisms to enable member states achieve their integration into the global economy; and c) information-sharing and exchange of good practices on development cooperation issues as well as capacity building for strong institutions.
Three shortcomings are the limited systematised knowledge on trade and development policies and lessons learnt on successes (like Mauritius being transformed from raw sugar exporter to now a services-centred middle income country) as well as failures. There is a significant amount of accumulated knowledge within the ACP Secretariat but it is not readily accessible – this must change. Secondly, dealing with too wide an agenda of complex issues and not consistently linking to political dialogue and thirdly, too much reliance on “aid” as if that is the primary factor for poverty eradication.
The shift now is to emphasise a role as a Knowledge Management hub with a catalytic role globally. We were in Addis Ababa at the Global Conference on Financing for Development (FfD). The ACP's position paper showed development finance to be multi-dimensional. While consolidating what we have already gained both in Brussels and Geneva in the WTO we are optimising multilateral engagements, mainly through south-south & triangular cooperation.
The strength of the ACP group was seen most recently at the COP21 meeting, where the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement was arrived at by combined efforts of the ACP and EC as catalysts of what became the “high ambition coalition”. It was sparked by the joint announcement by the EC and ACP, that: “EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries join forces for ambitious global climate deal”. This was a game-changer. We had brought together Ministers of Papua New Guinea and the Republic of Gabon, among others for a joint press briefing with the ACP and EC. This is tangible and timely proof of how the 79 and 28 can be catalysts of global change.
The ACP with other development organisations could enhance the messages that we want to convey.
EEAS: What are those messages?
SG: First message is – development is more than aid. Secondly, the fight against poverty cannot be adequately addressed without structural transformation of our economies. Structural transformation entails ACP countries going beyond trade as mainly exports of primary commodities, although earnings from exports are critical. We're looking at enabling value-addition in the entire commodity production, marketing and consumption process. This requires capacity building and adequate governance mechanisms in policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. Here the EDF Intra-ACP strategy plays a key role.
EEAS: So that's where you see a commodity moving across the value chain.
SG: Yes that is happening in the programmes of the CTA (Joint ACP-EU Centre for Technical Cooperation on Agriculture and Rural Development, Wageningen), which is an important joint institution that is managed with the EU. The work of the CTA needs to be accompanied by policy actions and investments that can structurally transform economies and enhance value with more earnings remaining within countries to promote attractive jobs for young men and women. Small economies have to pursue economies of scale and export high quality niche products in clusters. The Caribbean rum and spirits sector is a very successful example of Intra-ACP development cooperation between the public and private sector. Value addition also requires improvements in productivity and efficiency in governance structures and the means to encourage domestic resource-mobilisation. This point is emphasized in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA).
EEAS: Now, domestic resource mobilisation sounds like you are imposing more taxes. That leads to asking why middle-income countries lack financial resources for development.
SG: The large quantity of illicit financial flows from developing countries helps to explain that deficiency. This issue is among our strategic policy domains. We will identify mechanisms and promote institutions for improved public sector management and tax monitoring so that investment capital and domestic capital formation effectively serve development purposes.
The Illicit Finances that are lost to the developing countries don't vanish in thin air but invariably end up in banks and other financial schemes in developed countries. There are in fact two sides to illicit financial flows: The means by which to prevent or reduce the losses and the mechanisms to recover assets. We can clearly address this in collaboration with Europe under our Cotonou Agreement in regard to good governance and corruption. This is on our agenda with like-minded groups such as Global Financial Integrity (GFI).
The Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives identified the rule of law and good governance as an important plank in our programmes. We have, therefore, to look at good governance as the basic foundation to reduce and remove corruption. That will also require, of course, addressing policies on investment that generate structural changes in ACP economies. An example is: Botswana and the diamond industry showing how a negotiated agreement ensures that a high degree of returns remains within the economy. This principle of beneficiation is to be emulated in dealing with access to the extractive sector of ACP economies. Success in this area will bring us close to the abolition of aid dependency – a goal to which the ACP is firmly committed.
EEAS: If I may ask, what is the added value of the ACP because everything that you are telling me could have been done by the regional groupings (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) separately?
SG: Rather than speculate, I prefer to deal with historical experiences as have been cited. By doing things separately and individually the countries minimise the benefits of common policies, good and proven practices for institutional change and development. But as a grouping they do, because they share information and capacity with each other. Such actions continuously strengthen the regional pillars of ACP where common interests are concerned.
The added value is that the ACP grouping provides a contractual framework to share knowledge from the different regions and record the best practices and the successes. The added value in ACP mining industries, for example, can be derived from an understanding of what Botswana has been able to do. Lessons are shared by crafting out of success stories what is useful for policy-making and with the capacity that you have to build in your country – institutional capacity and resources-related capacity. The strength lies in the fact that we can share experiences across the Member States; of course in collaboration with the regional organisations. An important initiative on our part is the Inter-regional Organisations Co-ordinating Committee, which is jointly chaired by the Secretary-General with one of the regional organisations.
It hasn't functioned as well as we wanted it to, but we are working hard on this. It is being resuscitated with a wider scope than development finance. Regionalism has become terribly important and that's why our fortieth anniversary celebration was on the comparative assessment of regional integration processes.
EEAS: Let me shift slightly to the internal life of the ACP because you are now in your new role as Secretary-General of the ACP group but you were previously the Chair of the Ambassadorial Committee on Future Perspectives. Speaking with some of the people that worked previously here it was not difficult to detect some simmering tension between the Secretariat and the Committee of Ambassadors, in the sense that the former's staff felt kind of being in a straightjacket with the Ambassadors pulling the strings. You've come from the fox hole to the henhouse, if I may say so [laughs], so does it make it an easier relationship?
SG: The term straightjacket seems exaggerated. The Committee of Ambassadors has authority to monitor the Council's decisions and make proposals for subsequent decisions. This has a useful sub-committee structure, chaired by Ambassadors. If the sub-committees do not function at the strategic policy-making level but get into the minutia of managing and administration, roles can be confused. The secretariat is to implement policy decisions and manage efficiently and effectively the human, financial, organisational and physical resources so as to achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation.
The internal life is an area receiving attention that can be best addressed later. Already, we are seeing more effective Ambassadorial presence and participation ensuring that policy and strategic issues are addressed. This is happening as in the case of formulating an Intra-ACP Strategy for the 11th EDF; for an Issues Paper on COP21 and Climate Change; or preparations for the WTO 10th Ministerial Council being held in Kenya from 15-18 December 2015.
EEAS: The subject of post-Cotonou in an interview with you would need to be raised. Both the Committee of Ambassadors and the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) are reflecting about the future. At what stage are you regarding this reflection? What is the ACP going to propose post-2020? Is there a willingness to keep an agreement like Cotonou as it is or do you prefer a new version pointing into different directions?
SG: At this stage, the ACP group has not formulated details of a definitive position for negotiating a successor Agreement. In principle we favour a legally binding compact with mutual responsibilities and obligations but clearly pointing in new directions of the global arena in which we intend to work! It should be an agreement with the entire group that unequivocally and consistently stated its intention to remain united as a group. We are interested in more than just a Declaration to work together with the EU and within the present framework we can profoundly review and overhaul provisions and take account of the SDGs. How much we change and recast will be based on negotiating memoranda by 2017/18.
We see the process first as highlighting the ACP situated in the context of the SDGs: 2020 and beyond. This is the new ACP, repositioned and reorganised internally with a Secretariat less dependent for core administrative costs on the EDF. To arrive at that will require various income streams. One of them would be an Endowment or Trust Fund. Also we plan to work more closely with the RECs to assist with project management services.
Before formal engagement on the post-Cotonou negotiations, the Summit of Heads of State and Government in Papua New Guinea on 30 May to 1 June 2016 would have set out the parameters of our new direction and Action Plan. A phased implementation process will consolidate the "acquis" from Lomé to Cotonou. This will be instructive as an example of a unique North-South relationship that contains a wealth of knowledge on trade negotiations and development cooperation. That partly explains the positive reception given to us in discussions with UN agencies, that are supportive of an ACP presence in the UN system as a hub for south-south and triangular co-operation among developing countries.
So, going forward requires a critique of what's been there and is intrinsic, or did not function as we wanted it to and what needs to be changed. Effective collaboration has been achieved through the ACP-EU Joint Council, for instance, on major issues, such as the post-2015 Development Agenda that was agreed at the 39th Session of the ACP-EU Council on 19-20 June 2014 in Kenya.
Post Cotonou will allow us to identify issues and topics for joint positions or those on which we have different views and why. This is a mature partnership. We did not have a joint statement for the FfD Conference in Addis Ababa for instance, because at that time a common position on illicit financial flows and what agency globally should be competent on taxation matters was ambiguous.
Now, the universality of the SDGs and Agenda 2030 will reinforce how ACP and the EU can join forces on sustainable development in the three pillars of economic, social and environmental needs.
I would like us to see post-Cotonou as a coherent process, starting with informed and open reflections, refining, deepening the quality of the "acquis": the principle of joint management, the principle of developed and developing countries working together, policy coherence and principled positions on common values. The ACP group is deeply concerned about justice and human rights. So is Europe but cultural diversity, historical conditions and principles in the United Nations Charter on Fundamental Freedoms also have to be borne in mind.
We will bring to a post-Cotonou agreement, social, political and organisational capital to address global, continental and regional issues of the 21st century.
The Eminent Persons Group (EPG) is playing a role here. Their report has benefited from consultations across the six regions and will give an external aspect to reflections that the Ambassadorial Working Group presented and was approved by the ACP Council. Much emphasis is placed on how, and in what strategic policy domains, can we bring an added value of ACP countries working more closely in sharing their experien-ces with each other, optimising accumulated experience for transformation of economies, rich with natural resources that by and large have historically served the developed world at the expense of developing countries. That's the south-south dimension that is being pursued vigorously amongst our membership.
EEAS: You have very eloquently gone through the advantages for the ACP group to renew the Cotonou agreement but what do you think is the interest for the EU to have a new agreement? What can the ACP give to the EU because you have been speaking about south-south co-operation very enthusiastically but what about north-south co-operation?
SG: The ACP provides enormous access by the EU to a bloc of 79 developing countries! The ACP group is important to the EU as it builds its role as a global leader and a bridge-builder in an increasingly multipolar world. The historic COP21 Agreement in Paris is an excellent example, whereby the long-standing ACP-EU partnership went a long way to facilitate a joint position, which in turn sparked the necessary momentum which led to a global agreement on climate change. The potential is always there but we have to be more proactive in drawing down on it.
It seems to me, it is politically important from the EU side to have a structured relationship with a diversified group of 79 countries among which is the whole of sub-Sahara Africa. Europe also has economic and commercial interest to be cohesively organised and present in the South where competition from emerging economies has become stronger for access to raw materials, opportunities for investment and to supply expanding markets of ACP economies.
Political capital is often “drawn down”, for example, for candidacy in UN bodies such as the non-permanent membership in the Security Council and in UN specialised agencies. The access that Europe has to 79 countries is a great plus that Europe has benefitted from. When one speaks of economic and commercial benefits, the balance of trade with the ACP favours the EU in billions of Euros.
EEAS: But can't Europe have it directly without the ACP group?
SG: If you go individually, you will increase the risk of uncertainty of the overall number that supports a particular cause. Having individual country support carries less moral weight or reduces the impact of an exercise of “soft power” by which the EU can speak with a bloc of countries. It is not either-or but complementarity and proportionality.
EEAS: Europe complains that it has not received sufficient support from the ACP group when it needed in New York…
SG: Those complaints are of the past, I would hope. A position in favour of the EU was arrived at by dialogue and negotiation. In retrospect, that regrettable incident appeared without proper diplomatic preparation and came across as taking for granted our New York-based missions. At stake also was an issue of fundamental principle. Since the United Nations Charter speaks of the membership as countries, is Europe seeing itself as a country? Or is it a supranational entity? That was important to clarify and to know exactly what was being sought for the Union of 28 countries.
EEAS: The question here is not if Europe is interested in a relationship with ACP countries. The question is whether the best path to that relationship is through the ACP group or not. That is the question that Europe is debating at this stage…
SG: One ought to first ask what the relationship aims to achieve and then explore possible “paths”. One “path” has been dynamic and adaptable to changing conditions but has weaknesses to be addressed. It is what would be the comparative advantages of bilateral contacts instead of an Agreement with the ACP group of states, and vice versa. Up to now, a better alternative to the present framework has not been proposed or elaborated, as far as I know. However, what we would like to see in our political dialogue is not an orchestrated discussion – but advocacy together on issues: on questions of migration, climate change or illicit finances, for example. There needs to be real commitment to the partnership from both sides – not just when it suits the interests of one party.
On trade relations, when we see the TTIP and EU’s pronouncements that can be detrimental to our trade relations and the multilateral trading system, we have to question our principal interlocutor on the adherence to provisions for “prior consultation” in the Cotonou Agreement. Is it not contradictory to discard a treaty obligation for a development “round of trade negotiations” in favour of mega "pluri-lateral" agreements that amount to a new protectionism?
We are concerned about the political drift that Europe is taking as increasingly witnessed by an anti-immigrant atmosphere and xenophobic actions. There is much that is fragmenting Europe. We remain committed to Europe as a great project in economic and political integration with values of justice, unity in diversity and respect for human rights, to which the ACP subscribes.
We have to fight poverty to achieve a “decent life for all” and for sustainable livelihoods for people in ACP countries. This is being done embedded in values that we consider important to Europe and that we share as common to all humanity.
I hope these thoughts help our dialogue.
– Interview by Jose Costa Perreira. Courtesy of Africa-YEEAS newsletter/ EEAS