Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly – Hon. Joyce Laboso and Hon. Louis Michel
Hon. Abadula Gemeda Dago, Speaker of the House of Peoples' Representatives of Ethiopia
Hon. Rolandas Krisciunas, Lithuanian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, 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 26th Session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly. It is an honour for me and my country, Samoa to be accorded the privilege of presenting the views and concerns of the ACP Group on various aspects of our ACP-EU Cooperation. Allow me to state from the outset the ACP Council’s high regard for the facilitating role your Assembly plays in fostering greater understanding between ACP and EU communities as well as raising public awareness of development issues that are of mutual interest and concern.
As I observe the diversity of distinguished delegates gathered in this room, coming from all parts of the ACP family and of different professional and ideological persuasions, perhaps we ought to take a few moments and ask ourselves, what brings us together? Some have said, and they may be right, that what binds us together is our common history, bound as it is in slavery and colonialism.
I would rather submit that we are bound together much more by fundamental values of common humanity and the desire to see that current and future generations have the same, if not better, opportunity to live their lives in conditions that befit human dignity and respect.
This commitment to fundamental human values is even more pertinent now given that most of the problems that confront humanity transcend national boundaries. It was gratifying to note, for instance, the chorus of condemnation from the rest of the world following the heinous terrorist attacks at Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. This demonstrated that the terrorist attacks that have been going on for some time in Northern Nigeria and the extremist uprising in Northern Mali all have one thing in common, and that is to destabilize and disrupt peaceful democratic endeavors and respect for human rights.
I wish to make it very clear that the ACP Council is unequivocal in its condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The ACP Council believes that acts of terrorism are crimes that can never be justified under any political, philosophical, ideological, racial, religious, ethnic or other reasons. Terrorism is one of the greatest threats to the peace, security and stability of all our States and seriously compromises our economic development and hinders ongoing democratic processes. To this end, I am pleased to inform this august body that the ACP Council of Minister at its 98th session scheduled in Brussels from 9-11 December 2013 will consider an ACP Declaration on Preventing and Combating Terrorism.
Another tragedy that demonstrated the interconnectedness of our destinies was the deaths last month of over 300 migrants in a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. Thousands of desperate young people have died trying to make the perilous crossing over the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea, fleeing their homelands in search of what to many of them seems like a better life in Europe.
I take this opportunity to remind the Assembly that the Cotonou Agreement’s Joint Declaration on Migration recalls the joint commitment of EU and ACP States to uphold human rights of migrants, regardless of their immigration status, and to prevent and combat migrant smuggling and human trafficking. It goes further to stress the promotion of well-managed migration and mobility as enablers of inclusive and sustainable growth.
In my part of the world, the Pacific, one of our most urgent concerns is the impact of climate change. This is being felt in different ways in various parts of the globe. While here in Africa the focus is on mitigation measures, in the Pacific the reality goes further than that, because research and forecasts indicate that at current trends of rising sea levels, some islands of the Pacific might disappear altogether in coming years.
I wish to place on record the gratitude of the Pacific region for the financial assistance we have received from the European Union to address the issue of climate change in the Pacific. This does not, however, detract from the importance of international agreements on climate change issues, with binding commitments and adequate and programmable resources for the most vulnerable countries.
I have briefly highlighted the above few items to emphasize that although the tone of your deliberations in this Assembly may sometimes be polarised along ACP and EU lines, your involvement as Parliamentarians is critical to the realisation of the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement, as well as other international commitments to which our member States are individually and severally committed.
Let me assure you that the impact of your deliberations today and in the future, are as important for the Cotonou Agreement as they are for the work we are engaged with in other fora such as the UN Climate Change Convention, the UN Post-2015 development framework, or indeed the WTO.
With regard to the WTO, this is one of the critical institutions outside the UN whose decisions affect all of our people in one way or another. From small sugar producers in Swaziland, cotton farmers in Senegal, tourist operators in Jamaica and Samoa or indeed dairy farmers in France. In a couple of weeks trade ministers and senior officials will gather in Bali for the 9th WTO Ministerial Trade Conference to inject fresh impetus into the Doha Development Agenda.
For the ACP States the goal is once again, to emphasise the importance of securing a balanced and meaningful outcome in areas under negotiation. We would like the international community to avoid the pitfalls that befell previous WTO Ministerial Conferences. We are convinced that major trading nations must move beyond rhetoric and the passive ideals of a rules-based trading system and trully commit to achieving a successful outcome in Bali, with a clear commitment to a post-Bali work programme that places development at its core.
This is the only way for member States to retain faith in the system and for the WTO to remain relevant and useful to its member states, in particular developing countries.
If I may at this juncture highlight the importance of agriculture to ACP States. Empirical evidence suggests that no country has been able to sustain a rapid transition out of poverty without raising productivity in its agricultural sector. Agriculture continues to be the predominant source of employment in many regions of the ACP Group
Some of the challenges for agriculture in ACP States are: inadequately exploited land and water; rising energy and fertilizer prices; and the impact of climate change. We recognise that small-holder farmers need what all other businesses need – access to financial services, markets, infrastructure, technology and knowledge if they are to grow and prosper. There is also a need to integrate farmers into the high-value food chains as well as addressing the rights of small farmers to land.
An important aspect of agricultural productivity is the right of poor people to food. There is ample evidence that the world produces enough food to feed the world’s population. However, the problem is that much of the food is wasted, and the concentration of most resources on industrial agriculture and accompanying production subsidies in developed countries distort markets in developing countries to the detriment of poor farmers and poor urban communities.
Strong political will, a sustained effort across a number of years, collaboration across different sectors, including agriculture, finance, health, education and trade, are necessary for such a transition. The ACP Group believes that agriculture and the right to food should be one of the priorities for the Post 2015 development framework.
Poverty eradication and development are inextricably linked to trade. The ACP Group has always stated that trade has far much greater potential for development and poverty eradication than donor aid. As such, the ACP Group 13 years ago welcomed with great enthusiasm the initiative of EPAs. However, progress to date has not been uniform nor as progressive as we had hoped for in all ACP regions.
The outstanding negotiations have otherwise obscured other positive achievements of the ACP-EU relationship, particularly with regard to EDF funding of national and regional indicative programmes. That is the reason why, considering the frustrating nature and slow pace of negotiations, the ACP Group was rather dismayed by the unilateral action taken by our European Union partners on EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007. It is our view that the amendment places undue pressure on the on-going EPA negotiations for ACP states concerned.
While the EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 has been enacted into law and the deadline of 1 October 2014 has been set, the outstanding comprehensive aspects of the negotiations must be pursued relentlessly with a view to concluding regional agreements as soon as possible.
The ACP Group therefore, calls on the Members of the European Parliament to assist facilitate the achievement of these objectives in a real and tangible manner.
The final matter I wish to bring to the attention of this august Assembly concerns the future of ACP-EU relations beyond 2020. You might be interested to know that the ACP Group, through its Eminent Persons Group (EPG), has begun consultations within its six regions to solicit the views and perspectives of its stakeholders on how they perceive the role of the Group beyond 2020 and indeed its engagement with the EU.
The first of these regional consultations was held in my own country, Samoa from 17-19 October 2013 and the second in Grenada from 1-2 November 2013. The reports I have received indicate that both were well attended and successful in articulating the views of these two regions. The reports and recommendations of these consultations will feed into the work of the EPG and ultimately assist in framing a “collective ACP perspective” for consideration and a decision by the 8th Summit ACP Heads of State and Government slated for December 2014.
I understand that the JPA has also commenced its own reflections and discussions on this key issue and I commend and encourage you all to continue such exchanges and engagement with the aim of agreeing a more robust, realistic, innovative and bold agreement that will benefit ACP and EU communities post-2020.
I would like to conclude on the same note that I started on – which is, if we consider all the issues that confront the world today from the point of view of our common humanity, there is no issue that we cannot surmount. I am aware that this afternoon, your Assembly will be voting on Resolutions to mark the conclusion of this Session. I would like to remind you of these fundamental values as you take your decisions. I wish you success on your deliberations.
I thank you for your kind attention.