Honourable Ministers,
Secretary-General of the ACP Group of States, H. E. Alhaji Muhammed Mumuni,
Chairman of the Committee of Ambassadors, Fatumanava Dr Pa’o Luteru,
Your Excellencies,
Gentlemen and Women of the Press,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to firstly thank all of you for sparing time from your busy schedules to be here today. December is not a convenient month to be away from home to attend an international meeting.
Your presence today bears testimony to the importance your governments attach to the ACP and to your responsibilities as members in carrying out the pivotal tasks of the Council.
Let me also express our gratitude to the Secretary-General and the Secretariat as well as the Committee of Ambassadors for the hard work and preparations that have enabled us to hold our meeting today.
For me personally, the ACP and its work hold a special significance in my technocrat career having worked in the Secretariat in the late 70s and early 80s. Later, as a politician and a leader of my country, I have been privileged to also be part of the enormous effort by our ACP countries to negotiate the Lomé Conventions and the successor Cotonou Agreement. I recall that the establishment of the Lomé Conventions were widely hailed as an innovative and unique approach to North-South cooperation.
The negotiations of the Cotonou Agreement that guide our present relations with the EU was signed in 2000. I had the great honour at the time to be part of the ACP negotiators that put the final touches needed from our ACP side to complete the Agreement documents ready for signature, including making the decision for the joint ACP-EU signing to take place in the Pacific in Fiji. Events that are now history prevented that from happening and instead, the signing was at Cotonou.
I recall that the final meeting of the ACP Council here in Brussels were to the small hours of the morning. But such was the elation that came with completing the preparations of the Cotonou Agreement that looking back, I do not think that any of the Ministers, the Ambassadors, officials and the Secretariat staff involved at the time really did notice the long hours and how tired we all were.
Whilst the successful signing of the Cotonou Agreement rightly brought satisfaction of achieving an important milestone in our ACP-EU relations, we were also very aware that signing agreements in themselves do not automatically improve the lives of our people. We knew that already from the experience of previous Lomé Conventions. Rather, it is the hard work that continues from there that counts, and how the opportunities that are opened by the Conventions translate to actions on the ground in the respective countries of our ACP Group. It is why in my view, the work of this Council is vital as our ACP family examines the changing geopolitical environment and economic forces that may influence the relationship between our Group and the EU.
The world today, is no longer the world at the time of the Lomé Conventions, nor even for that matter the same as when we signed the Cotonou Agreement. The EU membership since Lomé I has grown from 9 to 28 and now includes countries previously part of the former Soviet Union or belonged to the then so-called Eastern Block. There are yet other countries waiting to join the EU. As we also all know, Europe is still struggling with the unprecedented challenges occasioned by the global financial crisis and the accompanying subsequent economic recession that affected many of its members. There is also no denying the emergence of global shifts and redistribution of economic power and perhaps even military might that are now taking place.
The EU leadership to be sure is working hard and taking bold actions to address the challenges the Union faces and to re-establish internal economic stability as well as to reassure predictability in the EU’s international engagements including its arrangements with our ACP Group.
Your Excellencies, it is in this connection that I would like to note with great appreciation the commitment by our EU partners o deliver the EUR 31.5 billion that has been agreed under the 11th EDF funding cycle. Coming at a time of drastic budgetary cuts in European public finances, we are very much encouraged by this demonstration of commitment to addressing the needs of the poorest nations.
As we enter the programming phase of the disbursement of 11th EDF resources, I would like to urge our EU partners to work more closely with the ACP in identifying our real needs and priorities. The accumulated experience of the last half-century of international development cooperation makes it abundantly clear that ownership is a key ingredient of successful economic partnership for development.
I would also urge that the EDF project cycle needs to be streamlined to make it less cumbersome. Whilst we must not compromise on due process, it is crucially important that procedures are not as complex as to discourage beneficiaries. It is therefore vital that we work together with our European partners in identifying areas where there are major difficulties and suggest ways by which aid resources can more quickly and more effectively reach those sectors that need them the most. The revision of Annex IV of the Cotonou Agreement is therefore essential if we are to accomplish this goal.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, our ACP-EU partnership has been a long and time-tested partnership. As in any lengthy relationship, there is always a tendency, often unconsciously, for partners to take each other for granted. We therefore need to remain vigilant and be ready to address issues as they arise to ensure that the relationship remains relevant and strong.
As a Group we need to continue to review our arrangements in the partnership with the EU. We need to shift the focus of our reflections and engagement away from what has been primarily “money centred” discussions and to concentrate more on preparing the negotiation terrain and smooth the path for more effective and beneficial discussions that will follow. These reflections and engagement will be more at the political rather than the technical level. The focus will be on key strategic global issues such as energy, climate change, democracy and rule of law, good governance, investments as well as the post-2015 Development Framework.
I believe that taking this path will also address the concern raised regarding the need to make the agenda of our Council meetings more strategic and relevant for Ministerial participation and attendance. In brief, let us place the ACP Group in a position where our partners would see real value in being a partner of the ACP. In other words, “we need to move beyond the constraints of donor-recipient mentality”.
In the context of the post-2015 development framework, I wish to register my appreciation to the UN Secretary General for making available Ms Amina Mohammed to share the perspectives of the UN and her expertise on this important initiative for all our countries.
Distinguished delegates, our ACP Group aspires to the same values the EU holds high, including: free markets, a rules-governed international order, respect for human dignity, democracy and the rule of law, and commitment to peace, justice and non-discrimination. It is therefore in the interest of the ACP and the EU to continue to press for a strong partnership based on these values and on mutual trust and respect for sovereignty.
Honourable Ministers, early last month, we had the honour of hosting the ACP Eminent Persons Group (EPG) consultations for the Pacific Region in Apia. We were encouraged by the high level of participation, and the convergence of views on the outcomes of the consultations was most encouraging.
The Pacific is united and strongly believes in the innate values and importance of the ACP family and would like to preserve its present character. The Pacific considers it very important and indeed inevitable that reforms must be made to the institution to equip it better to meet the needs of stakeholders and the demands of the extremely competitive 21st century global economy. In a rapidly changing world, it is imperative that we seek to reposition our organisation and revitalise it to better serve the needs of our nearly one billion people.
It is clear that we can only survive and flourish in this changing world if we reform our organisation to ensure that it becomes a more effective global player. I am confident that the completion of the EPG’s work will help guide our ACP Group in making decisions on the optimal path that meets our future interests.
Your Excellencies, we in Samoa acknowledge that European development assistance will continue to fill an important financing gap in our economic development efforts for the foreseeable future. Samoa’s economy relies on agriculture, tourism, services, manufacturing and remittances from our Diaspora.
But like other nations in our ACP Group, we remain highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. Samoa suffered two devastating cyclones in the 1990’s which wiped off 50 percent from our Gross Domestic Product, taking back our economic progress by more than a decade. In September 2009, we were struck by deadly tsunami that took the lives of over 140 people and left thousands homeless. In December last year, yet another cyclone struck taking previous lives and wrecking further havoc on infrastructure and the economy. For a small island country with a small population, the losses and setbacks from these natural disasters are hardly bearable. We are therefore very grateful to the partnership with the EU and with Samoa’s other developmental partners, for coming to our aid at those times of catastrophe for our country and people. Samoa’s experience is repeated in all our Pacific Island countries and, I am sure, right across the ACP membership.
We take the view that the frequency of natural disaster events is a consequence of climate change. This is the view share by most although sadly we are still waiting for a concerted global response that would at least halve climate change, if not reverse it. I do not think that the extreme danger to the world of climate change, ocean acidification and environmental degradation can be overstated. The consequences of these to our island states and all our ACP membership would be devastating and some observers think that the very existence of low lying island countries could be in jeopardy. It is therefore vital that assistance from our partners such as the EU are urgently needed by all our countries to support efforts at climate resilience, mitigation and adaptation I the sustainability of our developmental efforts and long term prospects are to have any meaning.
Next year 2014, Samoa will host the UN SIDS Conference in the beginning of September. The theme of the conference “Genuine Durable Partnerships for Sustainable Development” is to highlight and promote the importance of partnerships, as we have with the EU in sustaining the development efforts of each of our countries.
Honourable Ministers, I have referred to the virtues and the importance of our long-standing partnership with the EU. But it has not been without its own challenges.
The finalisation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations remains a contentious point in our relations. The deadline of October 2014 is a challenge. Within Africa and throughout the Pacific Islands, I am aware of the urgency of activities to try and conclude the EPA negotiations. The Caribbean is also struggling in implementing the agreement in ways that make meaningful impact on the livelihoods of their communities.
There is no doubt that we are keen to reach agreement with the EU on all the outstanding issues. But we would also like to see flexible accommodation from both sides to address and meet the respective interests of the ACP and the EU in equal measure.
Turning to the Cotonou Agreement, we are also concerned that while the ACP side have fully ratified the Second Revision, the EU has yet to do so. To date, 56 ACP States have fully ratified, thereby attaining the two thirds minimum required for the Agreement to come into force, in accordance with Article 93 (3). On the European side, 20 countries have complied so far. It remains for 8 EU member states to ratify, for the Agreement to come into force.
We do not believe that it is in the spirit of the ACP-EU partnership that the Second Revised Agreement is being implemented without having received the full force of law by way of ratification. According to the timetable, we should be considering the Third Revision of the Agreement at this time.
Honourable Ministers, I would now like to make a few observations on the ACP budget. We have been given to understand that 32 members have paid their full contributions for the 2013 budget. Regrettably, a total of 28 countries have yet to make any payment towards their 2013 contributions.
As at the middle November, contributions are in arrears by an amount of EUR 1.3 million in outstanding payments from members. Eight (8) members are under sanctions for being in default of payment for at least one full year. Only 65% of the total funding from 2013 contributions have been received and we are already in the last month of the financial year.
Honourable Ministers, there is hardly need to emphasise how important it is that we make good on our statutory contributions to the budget. Whilst it is right and proper that we make demands on the Secretariat to fulfil its role in servicing our Principal Organs, it is unfair to entertain such expectations while at the same time denying the financial resources to fulfil the Secretariat’s functions. I therefore urge our member countries that are yet to pay their contributions to urgently do so without further delay.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, inconcluding my address, let me reiterate once again the importance that Samoa attaches to the ACP and to our enduring partnership with the EU. It is evident that the EU and the ACP will continue to do business with each other in one form or another for the foreseeable future. The final form of what the arrangements would be for the relationship between the EU and the ACP beyond 2020 is vitally important to all our countries.
Honourable Ministers, Secretary-General, Chairman of the Committee of Ambassadors, Your Excellencies, we have important exchanges of views and decisions to make as set out in the agenda of our meeting. I look forward to your cooperation in completing our successfully and in good time. Like you, I have no intention of staying here to the early hours of tomorrow morning!
Thank you. Faafetai tele.