Brussels, 6 November 2017/ ACP: The ACP Secretary-General has called for a reinforced and more coordinated relationship between the ACP Group of States and the regional economic communities and organisations within its six regions. A wider and stronger reach in ACP regions will lead to more effective implementation of ACP development programmes.

Speaking in Lusaka, Zambia at the 37th session of the Council of Ministers of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Dr. Gomes said that in making consolidated efforts to transform itself to “a more prominent global player”, the ACP Group will seek not only to strengthen relations with its main development partner, the European Union, but will also diversify partnerships, enhance South-South Cooperation, and "reinforce its relations with regional and continental groupings, in order to foster complementarity and synergy".

“As part of the effort towards reinforcing the role and input of regional and continental groupings, I am proposing that a meeting of the Inter-Regional Organisations’ Coordinating Committee (IROCC) be held early next year,” he announced at the regional gathering. (Read full statement)

The IROCC was set up in 2011 with the aim of promoting regional integration, coordinating regional and intra-ACP programming of EDF resources, while fostering synergies between the work of the ACP Group and regional strategies. The 79 member states of the ACP Group are grouped into six regions: West Africa, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, Central Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Despite its latency in recent years, renewed interest in the IROCC has grown especially in the context of discussions about the future of the ACP Group as an organisation, including its longstanding partnership with the European Union, which is set to be renegotiated for the post-2020 period.

Role of the regions

Under the current ACP-EU framework, the regions have a major role in negotiating comprehensive regional trade deals or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the EU, as well as regional-level initiatives financed through the European Development Fund.

In terms of development cooperation, the regions also work together with the EU to formulate and manage Regional Indicative Programmes, which address regional development priorities to be supported through the European Development Fund (EDF). For the period 2014-2020 under the 11th funding cycle of the EDF, at least €3.3 billion are dedicated to regional initiatives (which are separate from national or Intra-ACP envelopes).

In the area of trade, negotiations for EPAs have been drawn out and challenging, with mixed results. Aside from the Caribbean, which had signed its regional agreement with the EU in 2008 and well into implementation, the SADC (Southern African Development Community) group signed in 2016, in light of the risk of suddenly losing preferential access to European markets.

While the majority of member states of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and EAC (East African Community) blocs have signed their respective regional EPAs, a few still have not until some key concerns are settled. For the ESA negotiating bloc (Eastern and Southern Africa), four of its 11 members of have gone ahead and signed an interim EPA with the EU, while a comprehensive agreement is still discussed. Meanwhile, negotiations for the Pacific and Central African regions have faced little progress, although a handful of countries are already implementing interim agreements with the EU.

In looking towards upcoming talks for a follow-up ACP-EU framework after 2020, the ACP Secretary General stressed the importance of “formally structured relations” between regional bodies and the ACP. Negotiations towards a new partnership will thus be based on five core principles:

a) The post-2020 Agreement with the EU must be placed within the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals;

b) The ACP Group of States shall remain united as an intergovernmental organization that will negotiate as one unified trans-regional entity, with formally structured relations addressing regional and continental issues and interests;

c) An ACP – EU post-Cotonou Agreement should maintain the core geographic and geo-political character of the Group, while being open to different types of association with other countries and groupings;

d) The Agreement must be legally binding; and

e) A dedicated development finance mechanism or protocol is to be included within the Agreement, over a fixed period of more than annual appropriations.

Moreover, the main negotiating team for the ACP Group will be comprised of representatives from all six regions.

“The ACP Group has been always proud of the collective role we play in tackling global challenges. We are living in times of great challenges and threats to multilateral institutions. We look forward to deeper and stronger working relations with COMESA that remains a catalyst for global and continental action and innovation,” stated Dr. Gomes.

In addition to speaking to the COMESA ministers, the Secretary General also personally met with the Vice-President of Zambia H.E. Ms. Inonge Wina to discuss these issues, as well as other high level officials. The response from Zambian authorities was fully supportive of the work of the ACP, as well as unity amongst the group. The challenges facing the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were highlighted as an area for further action by the ACP Group.

* Read the full statement by the Secretary General at the 37th session of the COMESA Council of Ministers

(Photos from top: Vice President of Zambia H.E. Inonge Wina greets ACP Secretary General Dr. Patrick I. Gomes in Lusaka; ACP Secretary General addresses 37th session of the COMESA Council of Ministers; ACP Secretary General (centre) and Vice President Wina; Group photo of the COMESA Council of Ministers, including ACP Secretary Genreal Dr. Patrick I. Gomes, front right/ Photos by COMESA)

– ACP Press