INTERVIEW: Secretary General talks ACP future with Caribbean leaders
Brussels, 15 February 2016/ ACP: The Secretary General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States H.E Dr. Patrick Gomes is attending the 27th intersessional meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community CARICOM in Belize on 16-17 February, to facilitate a discussion on the future of the ACP Group of States. Dr. Gomes spoke with the ACP Press Office about the aims of his mission in Belize and the issues to be covered when meeting with regional leaders.
ACP Press Office: Mr. Secretary General you will be attending the intersessional meeting of Caribbean Heads of Government this week. What is the purpose of your participation at this meeting?
ACP Secretary General Patrick Gomes: My purpose will be to facilitate a discussion on one of the items that the Heads of Government will deal with, namely, the question of the future of ACP-EU relations in the context of the 8th Summit of ACP Heads of State and Government, which is scheduled to take place in Papua New Guinea on the 31st of May and the 1st of June.
How is the 8th ACP Summit of special interest to the Caribbean region?
PG: I’d like to say that the ACP Group has its foundations in the Georgetown Agreement. Georgetown is of course the capital city of Guyana and the leadership that participated in the formulating of the ACP Group was the Caribbean. Therefore this occasion in particular will be very significant in how we see the future of a transformed ACP, looking not only at how we can restate our commitment to be united, and the solidarity that held us together as a combined force in dealing with common problems [as] developing countries, but also to see what type of relation we should entertain and pursue with the European Union, now that we are in a very different context than we had in 1975 when the first [ACP-EU] relationship was established under the Lomé Agreement.
What level of participation is being targeted for the 8th ACP Summit?
PG: Well I’m hoping for a big turnout. In one way the Caribbean heads would share a sense of responsibility because it was the Caribbean’s turn to host the 8th Summit. It was likely to be hosted in one of our Caribbean countries and now its shifted to the Pacific – so I’m sure there’s a commitment. Also, the subject areas that will be treated and the timing is so significant, given the great commitment that Caribbean heads have provided to both the Sustainable Development Goals, and more recently to the COP21.
As predominantly small island states and low lying coastal states that we all are in the Caribbean, CARICOM, we intend to look at ways and means in which our combined strength will address the implications and also the implementation of what is related to COP21 and of course how the Sustainable Development Goals can make a difference in our planning. For that reason, the theme of the Summit is: [Repositioning] the ACP Group to respond to the challenges of sustainable development.
It what ways should the Caribbean region be concerned about the future of ACP-EU relations and the future of the ACP Group?
PG: It’s absolutely important for the Caribbean and the Caribbean Governments to take seriously the future relations. Because there is an underlying tendency that we can be fragmented, along the lines of what has occurred with the Economic Partnership Agreements [between the EU and ACP regions], which has an emphasis on regionalisation. That dilutes the possibility of the 79 countries of the ACP having a common voice and expressing their solidarity on major issues related to trade, major issues related to political engagement, to governance on a global level. But also for development cooperation – we must see development cooperation in a much more enlightening way.
It is not a question at all now about being anxious to receive aid, but to know how development financing can be supportive, conducive to the goals that society has set, and the goals that societies are setting in the Caribbean will also be mirrored in the larger Sustainable Development Goals. Food security, nutrition security, energy questions [for example], but also we want to see trade much more as an instrument that is going to help to transform our economies. We have to address the supply side constraints. We do that much better by learning from each other in the South, and we do that much more by looking at the ways and means in which the new regulations that are coming in to these markets of the developed world, need to have a common approach. The illegal fishing regulations, the questions of standards that have been introduced – we have to do all of this in a much more unified and coherent way.
What do Caribbean countries gain from being part of the ACP Group and how will the region be working closely with the ACP?
PG: The continuing membership and effective participation of the ACP Group is fundamental, as I tried to convey, to us understanding not only the market, but also understanding the global issues that we better address in a unified way.
Of course, from the point of view of development cooperation, the EU and the European Development Fund, which is a fundamental aspect with our relationship with Europe – that exists as a means by which we can development assistance for major concerns in our countries. And that funding has been able to be predictable, able to look at our long terms plans in the regions, in a significant way.
What we have to do now is together bargain with Europe to understand better the concerns of Middle Income Countries. We are not that same as the majority of African countries that are ‘Least Developed’, but because we are Middle Income Countries we have to look at ways by which we can be assisted in mobilising domestic resources. We have to look at ways and means by which we can, in fact, benefit from the programmes linking us [to] access to technology, to higher education and research, innovation, which is possible through Europe, and doing that through a legally binding contractual agreement [such as the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement] that gives us an access that is different from just having a declaration of wanting to work together.
Most importantly, my going would really be an opportunity to listen to what are the goals, what are the concerns of [Caribbean] Heads of State and Government, but also how the region as itself would like to see ACP playing a more effective role. As you know, [under the ACP-EU partnership] there are ‘National Indicative Programmes’, and these are being reduced significantly in the Caribbean, given our Middle Income status. But then, there [are] ‘Regional Indicative Programmes’, and the regional programme under the EDF is to be complimented by what we can do at the ‘Intra-ACP’ level.
That is why the Intra-ACP level is one in which the Caribbean will play a much more significant part in dealing with certain matters, such as enhancing our health systems, but also looking at ways in which an integrated approach to our commodities, for moving them up the value chain, can be undertaken by working with other countries.
– Press ACP