Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General of Ministries responsible for Trade matters in ACP States; Excellency Ambassadors; Heads and representatives of ACP regional integration organizations; Distinguished participants; Ladies and gentlemen;

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to Belgium, Brussels and to ACP House, your House for this meeting of ACP Senior Trade Officials.

I know that most of you have come from far. The majority of you came through intricate air connections. Therefore, your presence here today is a testimony of the great importance that your respective Governments and regional organizations attach to this meeting. I want to say how we really value and appreciate your presence.

Distinguished participants,

We have invited you here so that for two days so that you can prepare for the meeting of the 16th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee scheduled to start on Wednesday afternoon. This will be followed on Friday morning by the meeting of the 11th Joint ACP-EU Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC).

The ACP Secretariat, your Secretariat, working closely with the ACP Subcommittee on Trade and the Committee of Ambassadors, in consultation with the European Commission, has drawn up the JMTC agenda.

We believe that the issues identified for you to discuss are those that are crucially important not only for the proper functioning of the ACP-EU trade relations but also for enhancing those relations further.

As technical experts responsible for trade in your respective Ministries and regional secretariats, it is important to draw on your knowledge, competence and experience, so that you can, not only enrich the agenda, if that is necessary, but also to come up with specific workable recommendations for consideration by the Trade Ministers.

The objective is to seek solutions to the myriad of problems and numerous challenges hampering expansion of ACP’s exports to the European Union, and by so doing, result in strengthening ACP-EU trade cooperation and partnership.

Therefore, your meeting is called upon to deliberate and come up with recommendations for ACP Trade Ministers in four main areas.

The first area concerns the EPA process. You will be called upon to take stock of progress in the whole EPA process. This means considering the outstanding issues in the negotiations for those regions that are yet to conclude full EPAs.

It also means evaluating implementation of the EPAs by the Caribbean region which concluded full EPAs and those countries in the Pacific and Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) configuration that are implementing the interim EPAs.

In this regard, each EPA configuration will be called upon to provide an update on how it has progressed so far. The Secretariat will update you on the developments in Brussels with regard to the proposed amendment to the Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 by the European Commission.

You are no doubt aware that the European Parliament voted on 13 September 2012, to push to 1 January 2016, the deadline for excluding certain countries from the list of beneficiaries under Market Access Regulation 1528/2007. However, it seems that the issue is yet to be resolved.

Therefore, on EPAs, a subject which has been with us for the last twelve years, you are invited to develop clear recommendations to present to our Ministers, for use during their political engagement with their European counterparts. However, as we have previously stated, we insist that the deadline for conclusions should be driven by substance and not by deadlines.

Distinguished participants

Another subject for your consideration is on the ACP-EU trade regime issues, specifically with regard to the EU Communication on Trade, Growth and Development; the EC negotiations with third countries and commodity related issues. The Secretariat has prepared and placed before you a set of documents that will allow you to address these topics comprehensively.

The main aim is to explore if and how the EU policies affect ACP-EU trade relations. We need to identify all obstacles to trade whether they are in form of non-tariff barriers or erosion of preferences arising from favours granted to third countries through FTAs. As long standing partners, the ACP and the EU have to continue discussing how the two sides can contribute to the improvement of trade exchanges between Member States. You have an important role of giving valuable advice on this matter.

The next topic that you will consider relates to the WTO process. I am gratified to note that our ACP negotiators in Geneva are with us today. They have been working very hard to promote and defend the interests of the Group. With the hiatus in the Doha development round, we have to seek other avenues that will assist ACP States integration into the global trading system.

It is for this reason that the ACP Secretariat with the technical and financial support of the MTS PMU organized a high level forum on emerging issues in the multilateral trading system in Nairobi, Kenya this year. I understand that the Forum produced a set of recommendation which your meeting will consider with a view to identify crucial ones that can be presented to the Ministers meeting.

The proliferation of negotiations of bilateral and plurilateral agreements is of concern to us since it could undermine the multilateral process. The EU in particular has opened many frontiers – negotiating with regions and countries across the globe.

You will be invited as part of your agenda for this meeting, to analyse the impact of these bilateral free trade agreements between the European Union and third countries, as well as other plurilateral agreements such as Anti-Counterfeit trade Agreement (ACTA), government procurement and Information Technology Agreement.

Distinguished participants

The agenda before is demanding but by looking at the calibre of senior officials present, I am convinced that you are equal to the task. Like I stated before, the objective of your meeting is to come up with a set of recommendations that will guide the Ministerial Trade Committee in its preparatory work for the 11th Joint ACP-EU Ministerial Trade Committee.

Therefore without taking too much of your time, I want to once again welcome you, thank you most sincerely for taking time to come from your busy schedules, and to wish you a successful meeting.

I thank you for your kind attention.

Mohamed Ibn Chambas
ACP Secretary General