Opening remarks by the Secretary General at the Opening ceremony of the 95th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, 11 June 2012, Port Vila VANUATU
The President of Council, The Hon. Alva Baptiste,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors and Plenipotentiaries
Ladies and gentlemen
On my own behalf and on behalf of the ACP Secretariat, it is an honour and privilege to welcome you all to Port Vila. I want to thank the government and good people of Vanuatu for the very warm hospitality that they have extended to us. We cannot help but be impressed by the efforts that have gone into putting such excellent facilities at our disposal.
Each time I have returned to this region, the more I have felt that our ACP solidarity is not a mere contraption of accidental history. Rather, it is founded in real bonds of a commonly shared origin and the mutual vision of a common future.
I have been told that the name ‘Vanuatu’ means, “The Eternal Land”, “Our Land”. It is instructive that in one of the native languages of Mozambique, Vanuatu means “My Land”. Could there be a link between the peoples of Vanuatu and the peoples of Mozambique or the East Coast of Africa?
It was the ancient Roman statesman, the Elder Pliny, who once noted, “ex Africa Omnia vincit” 0 from Africa, always something new! Africa is a land of mysteries, And it may well remain a mystery hoe peoples of African origin, or certainly very strong African features have populated the islands of the seas so for from the Mother Continent.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet at a time of major changes in world economics and international relations. In the coming years, we must make crucial policy choices regarding the reinvention of the ACP as a collective grouping. This is not only on account of the realities of the New Europe; it is equally due to new competitive pressures in the global market place and the new geopolitical configurations that define the character of our post-Cold War international order. What is essential is to build on our existing strengths while exploring new opportunities opened up by the emerging re-configuration of economic, technological and geopolitical developments.
The ACP today is the largest trans-regional intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the international system. There is potential to build on this numeric strength to promote the collective cause of some of the poorest countries in the world, with opportunity to establish crucial alliances not only with Europe but with some of the emerging global players in the world economy.
The key principles underpinning our ACP family of nations are anchored on commitment to diversity as a source of strength and a shared vision of a common future; democracy and rights0based development; and solidarity in facing the challenges of a world defined by ever-increasing interdependence, and rapid and constant evolution. Equally important for us human development and the pursuit of a fair, open and rules-based multilateral trading system that accords the highest priority to development issues. These are values to which we are all committed 0 values that still continue to guide us through the fog of doubt and uncertainty.
As we face the years ahead, we recognise the need to reinvent the ACO as a meaningful player on the world stage. Global re-alignments and major shifts in EU policy orientations have given rise to concerns of possible downgrading of the importance of the ACP-EU Partnership.
The rise of the emerging economies and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the nations generally referred to as the BRICS – offers a new window of opportunity. We have an opportunity to leverage on our numeric strength and moral authority as the coalition of the world’s poor to promote our collective interests while building new alliances with the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America.
The collective strength of the ACP derives from decades of inter-regional solidarity, international trade negotiations, development finance cooperation, political dialogue and relations with other international organisations. Indeed, the call for solidarity, greater visibility, relations with other international groups, streamlining of the core business and empowering its institutions have been a constant theme in all the Summits of Heads of State and Government since Georgetown 1975.
As we prepare for the next summit of the ACP which takes place in Equatorial Guinea in December, we have to build the necessary momentum to ensure the outcomes bring about a major overhaul of the ACP institutional system so that our organization can better serve the needs of our over 900 million people.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One of the sore points in ACP-EU relations is obviously the slow progress that has been made so far on the EPA negotiations. While the Caribbean region has already finalised its EPA, the Africa and Pacific regions are yet to do so. There is clearly an imperative necessity to re-engage with our EU colleagues to ensure that the EPA negotiations are speedily concluded on the basis of a shared vision of mutuality, interdependence, equity and fairness; without threats or arbitrary deadlines.
Equally crucial is the need for us to reform the workings of the principal Organs and to streamline many of our core functions. It seems evident that the ACP can be most effective when it sets out not to replicate what others are already doing but when it concentrates in those niche areas in which it enjoys a high comparative advantage. This would require focusing on our core competencies and repositioning the Secretariat as an intergovernmental organisation that does more than the role of mere convener of conferences and meetings.
I want to reaffirm once again an observation I have made on more than one occasion: if the ACP-EU partnership did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent it. A stepchild of history, it has evolved as a part of the moral economy in the New Europe, providing the EY an unrivalled influence to nearly a billion people and their governments. The ACP is arguably the best model there is for the contractual approach to world development based on interdependence, dialogue, and mutually shared responsibilities.
For better or worse, Europe will always be a part of us. As in any marriage, cobwebs are likely to fill some of the cupboards of old habits presumptive attitudes, It would be wrong for us in the ACP to continue to operate on the basis of an ‘entitlement mentality’. At the same time, Europe would be wrong to assume that old attitudes will suffice for a world that has changed beyond what anyone would have imagined.
We have to acknowledge that there are aspects of this relationship that have worked very well. For example, the EDF has been strong on the public sector but rather weak in the area of private sector development. There is also the fact that old attitudes die hard. Unlike the Chinese, the European mind-set continues to view the ACP as a problem rather than an opportunity. With Europe’s aging population and its current fiscal and institutional challenges, the growing economies of the ACP constitute a potentially huge market and investment opportunity that could help restore the Old Continent to the path of long-term growth.
The truth of the matter is that Europe will not be Europe if it abandoned its moral obligations – those ideals that have been inherent in her civilisational role since the Enlightenment. At the same time, we in the ACP must take full responsibility for our own future, leveraging on our moral capital as the largest coalition of the world’s poor.
The rest of the year will be a particularly busy one for us. After these meetings in Vanuatu, some of us will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Rio +20 historic Conference. It is essential that the ACP speaks with a common voice. It is also imperative that we reach a common ground with our EU partners so that, together, we can help push the momentum for real change at the global level.
For the rest of the year, we would also step up preparatory work towards the Summit of Heads of State which comes up in Equatorial Guinea in December. I need not reiterate how important and historic this upcoming Summit is bound to be. I trust that all the Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegations here assembled will impress on their Heads of State the importance of this Summit and the need for them to make a presence. The future of our organisation will depend on it.
I want to thank you once again for your kind attention and I wish us all a very successful meeting.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas
ACP Secretary General