The United Republic of Tanzania holds ACP Presidency for the period 1 February – 1 August 2014. During this period, H.E Dr Diodorus Kamala chairs the ACP Committee of Ambassadors, a decision-making organ of the Group that reports to the Council of Ministers. ACP Press delivers an exclusive interview with the former Tanzanian Minister for East African Cooperation to get his views on current challenges facing the ACP Group and his outlooks on the future.

ACP Press: What are some of the key issues is the ACP Group, in particular the Committee of Ambassadors, looking at this year?

H.E Dr Diodorus Kamala: There are several issues. One of the key ones is the Economic Partnership Agreements, which first entered into negotiations in 2002. We need to take stock now of these negotiations and their implementation, for those who have signed. If countries enter EPAs, they should make sure the terms follow the provisions in the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement – that the EPAs are development-oriented, that they support regional integration, and they promote integration into the global economy.

The second challenge has to do with the ACP-EU Joint Private Sector Development Strategy, which is aimed at ensuring that the private sector in ACP countries keeps growing at a healthy rate. Funds will be allocated from the 11th EDF [European Development Fund covering 2014-2020] for this purpose and we are anticipating a common strategy to be finalized by June, and approved by the Joint Committee of Ambassadors. We also have to develop a common ACP-EU position on the post-2015 development agenda by June.

Finally, we are closely looking at the future of the ACP Group. As you know, the ACP-EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement is coming to an end in 2020. Now the question is, what next after 2020? The Committee of Ambassadors set up the Working Group on Future Perspectives to deliberate on this issue and an Eminent Persons Group was also created which is doing its own independent report which will be submitted to the Heads of State Summit meeting in Suriname late this year.

ACPP: So the EPA negotiations are finally on the way to being concluded this year?

DK: In negotiations we must always hope for the better. I am optimistic that we will be able to agree, or agree to disagree – meaning there should be good options for regions that are not able to agree on an EPA. As you know there is a “deadline”, so to speak, of October 1, 2014 for ACP countries negotiating trade agreements with the EU. If they don't take steps to ratify a deal by this date, they will lose the current trade privileges they enjoy, and they will have to enter into a different scheme of preferences [i.e Everything But Arms, GSP, or GSP +] or they have to pay full duties to bring goods into the EU.

However, when you look at the magnitude of the agreements being negotiated, there are more elements agreed than those disagreed. There are three main issues we still disagree on, which are the taxes on exports, the Most Favoured Nation clause, and Rules of Origin. The other one is also the development aspect. Although in the past, the EU side was not very interested in providing support for our supply side constraints, now it seems it might be possible for them to work with ACP on that issue. Of course, there's a question of budget – where will the additional resources come from – as the 2014-2020 Multi-annual Financial Framework has already been decided. But you never know. You only need political and commitment. And it's important to have mutual trust in the relationship.

ACPP: Does the ACP and EU trust each other in this regard?

DK: I think so, yes. We've been together for a long time – for decades. At the same time, every relationship can have their trust tested, and I believe this is one of them. At the end of the day we will still have to be WTO-compatible in our trade activities, whether it’s with EU or any other trade partner. The question is how you negotiate – whether you can negotiate a good or bad EPA. As I said before, EPAs need to be development oriented, support regional integration, and promote integration into the global economy. In other words, they need to be WTO-compatible and Cotonou-compatible.

ACPP: Let's talk about Regional Integration. What are some lessons you can share from your previous experience as Minister for East Africa Cooperation in your country, which can be helpful for the ACP Group?

DK: When you decide you want to cooperate with each other, you have to put in place tools to achieve this. We started in Eastern Africa wanting to promote trade amongst ourselves. Well if you talk about trade, you need a customs union to achieve that. So around five years after the creation of EAC in 1999, the EAC started operations as a Customs Union (2005). The second stage was the creation of a Common Market in 2010. The next will be a monetary union, then finally political integration. However with the Georgetown Agreement [which founded the ACP Group], there are various objectives, including improving trade relations – but it does not talk about how to achieve these things. The Agreement should reflect the importance of putting in place a Customs Union and Common Market.

Also, I must stress the importance of having a monitoring and evaluation system. At the end of the day you have to be able to assess what you have done as well as the structures you are using, in order to judge if you are moving in the right direction. This was a key issue at EAC, where after five years, there was no monitoring or evaluation in place, so that you had to assess by looking at certain cases or trends and draw conclusions from that.

For the ACP Group, because of the lack of an effective monitoring and evaluation system, it is finding it difficult now to establish and quantify after 50-odd years what has been accomplished by the Group or the ACP-EU Partnership.

We also need a good strategic plan, with objectives, activities, and benchmarks. It would be ideal to have one for 2014 – 2020, with a SWOT analysis and an analysis of interests of different stakeholders. It's something we should have had right from the very beginning, but we did not. Instead, the work of the ACP Group was guided by the partnership agreements with Europe – the Yaounde Conventions, then the Lome Conventions and now the Cotonou Agreement.

The current process of transformation of the ACP Group also needs a strategic plan, otherwise there will be too many streams of activities, which creates confusion, and many extra institutions established.

ACPP: Why do you think there has been this approach as the ACP Group, for so long?

DK: I think at the beginning, the roots of the ACP stemmed from a relationship between former colonies and colonial masters, focused on their assistance. In other words, the European Development Fund (EDF) carries the relationship – it's donor-driven. The first EDF round was established after the Rome Treaty in 1959, whereby territories of France were brought into association status with the European Economic Community. Then in 1964 we had the 2nd EDF, and by then some countries had gained their independence when they signed the Yaoundé Convention. Then the UK entered the EEC in 1973, bringing in its own former colonies. The ACP Group was created as an autonomous entity in 1975, made up of the members of the ACP-EEC Lomé Convention.

In 2000, the main focus grew from technical and financial assistance, to include trade and political dialogue dimensions. It meant that development assistance was now conditional on “good governance” and other demands. Political dialogue was usually about meeting the necessary conditions to access development assistance funds.

Basically I think the Georgetown Agreement was largely established as a framework to consolidate members and negotiate more effectively with the EU. The elements of the ACP Headquarters Agreement are not by default, but by design. Even the budget depends on the EU. Today however, we need to assess the interests of stakeholders after all these years. In fact, we need to revise our strategies every five years, because interests can change. When the ACP Group was founded in 1975, there were nine European members and 46 ACP members, then it grew to 15 EU and 77 ACP by 2000, and today there are 28 to 78. We must adapt our approach to be complimentary with these developments.

ACPP: What are your personal outlooks on the future of the ACP Group as an international organisation?

DK: I think there should be an ACP Partnership Fund. Actually, this is feasible for the ACP now, it isn't a matter for the future. There are so many stakeholders who are willing to work with the ACP. Superpowers that were formerly uninterested in Africa, are now interested. We just need to re-organise ourselves. We have to show that we are ready to work with new partners, including all stakeholders whose objectives do not conflict with our objectives or those of our major partner.

I also believe that united we remain strong, divided we fall. Our numbers count, as well as the fact that we've been together as a group for a long time. You would never command the same respect if it is just A alone or C alone or P alone – as you would with A-C-P together. Even if a country could not trade with Europe, it could still have access to special privileges because it is associated with another country that does. The ACP can negotiate together on key issues and get a good deal.

Not only that, we have cultural relations, similar economies, and even common genes. If we can't work well together, who else has that same level of linkages? We are the most closely related to each other and this alone can make ACP one of the strongest institutions ever. We just need to express the political will and commitment. Our original mistake of course with the EPAs was breaking up and negotiating in regions. But we cannot correct that mistake by making another one, that is, by Africa continuing on its own, or the Caribbean on its own or the Pacific on its own.

ACPP: But do you believe an ACP-Free Trade Area (FTA) possible with the infrastructural limitations the regions face, such as high transportation costs?

DK: An FTA is really where we should be heading. If you look at the fishing industry in places like Mauritius and also in the Pacific for instance, in the Caribbean you have the service industry – every part of the ACP has its own comparative advantage. Every region of ACP has its own uniqueness of which it can still take advantage…

As for transportation, in Economics we always say that in international trade, the cost of trade is always assumed to be zero. You can use water transport for trade between some regions, for example. There are clearly challenges on the continent, but when I look at Africa, there are many projects going on that will connect East to West and North to South, financed through resources raised in Africa. The moment we get that solved, it will be easy to connect and trade with each other. What matters most is comparative advantage. The real cost we need to eliminate is taxes and non-tariff barriers of doing trade.

– Interview by Josephine Latu-Sanft, ACP Press