Distinguished Honourable Ministers;
Our Special Guests, Ambassador Yonov AGAH Deputy Director-General of the WTO and Mr Martin KHOR, Executive Director of South Centre,
Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General of Ministries responsible for Trade matters in ACP States
Excellency Ambassadors,
Heads and representatives of ACP regional integration organizations
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to welcome you all to Brussels and to ACP House, for this very important meeting. Your coming here, in spite of the pressing burdens of state, bears testimony to the importance you attach to the ACP and to engaging with our European partners in addressing some of the most critical policy challenges of our epoch.
Times without number, we have been reminded that the Age of Aid may be passing and that the Age of Trade is now upon us. In ages past, our nations were integrated into the global trading system by the force of gunboat diplomacy. From colonial times to the present, we believe that the international trading system has not treated us in accordance with the precepts of justice and equity. Whether within the framework of the WTO or that of the EPAs, our collective interest is to ensure that our integration into the global economy proceeds in a manner that enhances the welfare of our nearly one billion people and the prospects of the long-term development of our nations.
At this juncture, I would like to appreciate the Honourable Alva Romanus BAPTISTE – Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation of St Lucia for agreeing to chair this meeting and Co-Chair the Joint Ministerial Trade Committee Meeting. Recalling how well the Honourable Minister chaired the ACP and Joint ACP-EU Council of Ministers meetings in Vanuatu last year, we thank him and the St. Lucia delegation for showing such exceptional leadership and commitment to advancing the cause of the ACP family of nations. The great economist and Nobel laureate Sir William Arthur Lewis, a prominent son of St. Lucia, would have been proud of the work you are doing.
Honorable Ministers, Distinguished Guests,
As I’m sure you are all aware, Article 38 of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement establishes the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC) and provides for it to meet at least once a year.
The Cotonou Agreement as revised in 2010 enhanced the mandate of the JMTC to enable it to address any trade related issues of concern or interest to the ACP States, including, most importantly, the monitoring of Economic partnership Agreements (EPAs). In this regard, the ACP-EU consultation process has been more clearly defined with the JMTC playing a key role in addressing or resolving difficult issues. As we seek to make progress with the EPA negotiations, the importance of the present meeting cannot be over-emphasized.
The previous meeting of the JMTC was held on October 26 October last year. The minutes of the meeting have been prepared by the Secretariat and you will have the opportunity to approve the minutes of that meeting.
The objective of the next, 12th Meeting of the JMTC, which will take place at European Commission offices on Friday afternoon, is first and foremost, to address the issues before the multilateral trading system of the World Trade Organization. In particular, the preparations for the Ninth WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Bali, Indonesia will feature prominently in the discussions.
You will also be called upon to address issues related to ACP-EU trade relations. These include progress on the negotiations and implementation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as well as other pertinent issues arising from the current ACP-EU trade arrangements.
The Senior Officials who have met here for the last three day have worked hard to prepare for your meeting. They have developed some technical material to aid your dialogue process with your European counterparts. Perhaps it is also worth recalling that the JMTC is not expected to be a formal negotiation process as such, but a political engagement to address ways of strengthening ACP-EU trade relations and taking the agenda forward.
Honorable Ministers,
One of the key issues that you will discuss is the state of play on the EPA process. The Senior Officials received reports from all the regional EPA configurations on the progress made in the negotiations as well as the implementation by the Caribbean which concluded a full EPA and those countries in the Pacific and Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) configurations that are implementing the interim EPAs. I am happy to learn that in some regions such as SADC, good progress has been recorded and there is a possibility to conclude negotiations in the near future. For other regions, there are outstanding issues for which convergence is yet to be achieved between the negotiating parties.
With regard to the amendment to the famous EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 by the European Union, the legal process was completed and the deadline set for 1 October 2014 is for real. Affected ACP States and regions have to deal with the consequences of this amendment with the utmost urgency.
Your Excellencies, Honourable Ministers,
As I had the occasion to explain to the Senior Officials, the ACP was rather dismayed by the unilateral action by our European Union partners on this matter. We believe that any amendment to that Regulation ought to have been agreed to, by both Parties. What the ACP feared, it would, is sadly coming to pass. It is our view that the amendment to EC Market Access Regulation 1528/2007 has become the key complicating factor in the remaining EPA negotiations.
The ideal situation for the ACP States concerned would have been to allow for the negotiations to continue without this undue pressure, so that the final outcome is satisfactory to all concerned. It is important that the implementation of the Agreements reached can stand the test of time. The Senior Officials have made some recommendations on the EPA issue which will be placed before you for your consideration.
Honourable Ministers,
Another subject for your consideration that will also be discussed with the EU side touches on the Commission’s negotiation with third countries. For example, we were taken aback by the news of new trans-Atlantic trade negotiations between Europe and North America. No one from the Berlaymont thought it necessary to inform and reassure the ACP. Our major concern has been the fact that our acquis in terms of preferences are being continually eroded, and are likely to evaporate within altogether under the Economic Partnership Agreements and by the conclusion of free trade agreements with third countries.
While we accept that preference erosion is inevitable, the question remains, what can we do about it?
Distinguished Guests, Honourable Ministers,
This brings me to the question of how to enhance intra-ACP trade relations. The MTC meeting of last year considered a report on a study carried out to explore the feasibility of establishing an ACP Free Trade Area. The promised feedback on the study by the ACP states and regions was not forthcoming. It is for this reason that the issue is back on your agenda.
I must express our disappointment over the fact that we are not doing enough to expand trade among our regional communities. Some work has been done some progress has been made on this score at technical level. Working over the past couple of days, Senior Officials have put together some proposals for your consideration.
There is yet another issue of political significance that you will have to consider. This is a topic that has been suggested for discussion by the European Commission. It is on the topic of the so-called “conflict minerals”. We anticipate that robust and healthy debate will spring up from delegates when considering this topical issue.
Other issues that are before you for your consideration relate to Non-Tariff Measures, including Sanitary and Phytosaniatry measures as well as commodities. Support in the area of trade related capacity building will also be discussed.
On all these topics, the Senior Officials’ Report is rich with recommendations which you will be invited to deliberate on and come up with appropriate conclusions and recommendations for action going forward.
To end let me say how pleased we are to have two specials guests – Mr Yonov Frederick AGAH, the Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization and Mr Martin KHOR, the Executive Director of the South Centre.
We thank them for taking time out of their busy schedule to come and interact with Ministers on the preparations for the WTO Ministerial Conference to be held from 3 – 6 December in Bali, Indonesia.
Ambassador Yonov Frederick Agah is well known to the ACP fraternity having been the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Geneva and having served as Chair of the WTO General Council in 2011. In this latter capacity he shepherded the preparations for the Eighth WTO Ministerial Conference which was successfully concluded. I say successfully concluded because there are two ministerial conferences which did not live up to expectations. They actually collapsed. So as we proceed to Bali, we hope that Amb Agah will give us hope and raise our expectations for a successful Ministerial Conference.
We are happy to have him speak to the Ministerial Trade Committee.
We also have with us Mr Martin KHOR who needs no introduction because he is an Ambassador of the South. He has done a lot of work in support of developing countries.
Prior to taking up the position of Executive Director of South Centre in 2009, Mr. Khor was the Director of the Third World Network (TWN), a leading developing-country civil society organization involved in research and publications in trade, environment and development issues.
He was also the Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS). He is a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy.
Mr. Khor, you are also most welcome
I wish you very fruitful deliberations and thank you for your kind attention.