Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly – Hon. Fitz Jackson and Hon. Louis Michel
Hon. President-in-Office of the EU Council
Hon. Members of the JPA
Distinguished guests
I thank you for the opportunity to address you on this occasion of the plenary session of the 28th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. It is an honour for me and my country, Republic of Guinea, to be accorded the privilege of presenting the views and concerns of the ACP Group on various aspects of ACP-EU Cooperation. I take this opportunity to join my illustrious predecessors in the ACP Council in thanking you for the outstanding work that this Assembly undertakes in keeping alive the values and principles of ACP-EU Cooperation.
This being the first session of the Assembly after the European Parliament elections held in May 2014, I wish to extend, though belatedly, congratulations to all the Euro Deputies for being elected and for some of you, re-elected to the Parliament. May you continue this engagement with the same sagacity of your predecessors.
The JPA is a unique institution which has no equivalents anywhere. Indeed, in what other for a would we find elected Representative from the majority of countries in the South, and counterparts from the most developed economies of the North coming together to debate and find common positions on issues that affect the welfare and future of almost half the population of the world.
I would like to devote my statement to highlighting just a few of the issues that that need your attention, and indeed the attention of policy makers at national level as well.
The first starting point for me is the conclusion of the EPA negotiations, which have occupied a significant portion of ACP-EU work for over 10 years. Even as we move close to the conclusions of these negotiations, the global trade environment looks set to be fundamentally reshaped once again by other mega trade pacts currently being negotiated by the EU, in particular the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and the EU. Add to this mix the expanding presence of Chinese investment and the seismic shift in economic trade flows it is causing. For ACP policy makers, this will add another layer of complex policy choices on how to react and reposition our trade regimes to deal with the attendant risks and to benefit from new opportunities.
In view of such challenges, we recognise the important role that the private sector can play in reshaping and revitalising our economies. The 37th Session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers that was held in Nairobi in June this year adopted a Joint ACP-EU Cooperation Framework for Private Sector Development in ACP Countries to spearhead our engagement with the private sector in our countries.
There is still untapped potential for governments and donors to explore ways of scaling up their engagement with the business community in the pursuit of more peaceful, just, inclusive and successful societies. We acknowledge that we can cannot pursue these lofty ideals without considering other social, and political issues that could hinder or promote the vibrancy of the private sector.
The overarching priority in all our endeavours is to feed our people, and in this regard, the agricultural sector will continue to be a priority area in many of our countries. And we are not just talking about increasing agricultural production, but rather creating value chains in the sector in order to increase farmers’ incomes and economic linkages into the rest of our economies. We also want to increase agricultural trade, but to do it in a fair and equitable way. We will continue to argue for appropriate action at global level, including the EU, for trade regimes and policies that impact our agricultural sectors negatively.
Some development analysts have stated that with aggressive but reasonable policy interventions, Africa could become a net exporter of food in the next 10 years. On the other hand, improvements in African agriculture in the absence of appropriate development policy interventions could lead to large quantities of food leaving the continent resulting in increased consumption in rich countries but leaving Africans unable to meet their daily nutritional requirements.
We therefore invite our partners, and that includes EU legislators, to continue to support our efforts to increase low-income consumption and access to food. We recognise that production increases in agriculture cannot be fully absorbed without improvements with regard to access to water.
In certain ACP regions, the problem is not just water scarcity, but the threat of desertification. In this regard, I am pleased to inform you that the EU and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in collaboration with the ACP Group have launched a €41 million, 4 and half year programme to bolster sustainable land management and restore drylands and degraded lands in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The programme, called the Action against Desertification, will be crucial in fighting hunger and poverty, fostering stability and building resilience to climate change in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas.
An equally pressing issue is climate change. The UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that unless we phase out the intensive use of fossil fuels in the next half century, there will be dire consequences for all of life on the planet. Some ACP countries, especially some small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean, are already feeling the effects of climate change.
Moreover, a narrow range of resources, high dependency on international trade, serious exposure to external shocks, and high transport and communication costs, set further hurdles for sustainable development for island countries, which make up almost half the membership of the ACP Group of States.
As we address the challenges of extreme poverty elsewhere, we need to pay particular attention to the vulnerabilities for small island developing states, and not to place too much emphasis on the fact that most of them are classified as upper middle income countries; they need to be assisted to maintain and better still, to progress further from this level. These small countries are still vulnerable to external and climatic shocks that could cause them to slide down to least developed country status.
I wish to remind your Assembly that one of the biggest challenges and politically sensitive issues that confront politicians whether in developed or developing countries is increasing inequality. The danger is that however much our economies grow, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development if inequality continues to increase at the present rate.
It is estimated that in 2013, seven out of 10 people lived in countries where economic inequality was worse than 30 years ago, and in 2014, the British aid agency Oxfam calculated that just 85 people owned as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity, or about 3.5 billion people.
Extreme inequality is not only disturbing on moral grounds, but it is also a threat to democracy and peace. The President of the World Bank has warned that we will not be able to end poverty if we do not reduce inequality. He has stated that the well-being and opportunities of the poorest are directly affected by how much wealth is concentrated in the top end of the distribution. He draws attention to the fact that inequality distorts the political process that redistributes power and opportunities. It allows the privileged to hoard opportunities, while limiting chances for those at the bottom.
The issue of inequality is therefore one that cannot be postponed. It is our responsibility as Representatives, in the European Parliament as much as in our national parliaments, and indeed in bodies such the JPA, to call for urgent action to redress these extreme economic imbalances.
This calls for pragmatic solutions. As an illustration, the WHO estimates that a 1.5 per cent tax on billionaires’ wealth of over $1bn in 2014 would raise $74bn. Meanwhile the current annual funding gap for providing Universal Basic Education, which goal number 2 of the MDGs, is $26bn a year, according to UNESCO. The annual financings gap for providing key health services in 2015 is $37bn a year.
The fundamental challenges is to craft policies that will enable the rich and those less privileged to act in the best interest of society. The core issues come down to whether we can envision and promote economic systems that generate jobs, food security and rising living standards in a more sustainable and ethical way.
As a Guinean, I cannot address this Assembly without talking about Ebola, which is ravaging my people and those of Liberia and Sierra Leone. I wish to pay tribute to those countries and institutions that have come forth with financial and material support to the three affected countries in West Africa. I also wish to thank health workers from within our own countries as well as those that have come from other countries to be at the frontline of the fight against the disease at great personal risk.
Ebola could reverse the many positive political and economic gains that have been made in recent years. It has critically crippled our capacity to deal with ordinary, but no less threating health matters. Although the immediate concern is about stopping the spread of the disease, now is also the time to take a fresh look at the health sectors in our countries to address the structural deficiencies that make it more difficult for those living in developing countries to access basic health care.
The disease has also shown that the public sector, and the international multilateral system, has to put in place more robust mechanisms for medicines and vaccines development for communicable diseases. Without universal public health systems in place, the private sector will only develop solutions that make profits, leaving those in developing countries more vulnerable to the spread of viruses like this one.
In concluding, I would like to submit that all our endeavors in terms of development interventions in ACP countries, especially in Africa, cannot be divorced from issues of governance. As recent events in Burkina Faso have demonstrated, the stability of our political systems rests on the ability of public officials and institutions to engender trust and confidence on the part of our people. Once these are lost, the legitimacy of political leaders goes with it. The masses have become equally adept at removing elected or unelected leaders by the ballot or popular uprisings. As politicians, we need to stay alive to our ultimate obligations to listen to our people and apply the highest level of integrity in our political decisions.
On the African front, other political challenges remain, such as the political crisis in the Central African Republic, South Sudan as well as the terrorist threats in the Sahel, the northern part of Nigeria and in East Africa. We shall not be able to resolve all these issues overnight. But we must send out a strong message that we are resolved to act in solidarity with any nation that is faced with threats to its political and territorial integrity. Modern terrorism has been globalized, and the methods employed and modes of financing have become more and more sophisticated. Even those countries that appear not to be directly affected will eventually be affected. That is why terrorism needs to be treated as a global political threat with the requisite mobilisation of financial, technical and human resources to effectively fight it.
I thank you for your kind attention and wish you success in this and in your future activities.