Your Excellencies; Distinguished Representatives from the ACP Civil Society, Economic and Social Partners, and the Private Sector; Invited Guests,
Welcome to the ACP House! Please see this as yourown house in Brussels…Good to have you at home with us. Your presence here today, reaffirms your commitment to and special role as a very important constituent element as an Actor of the ACP-EU Partnership, enshrined under the Cotonou Agreement.
We meet at an extremely serious, historic and critical time for the ACP Group, as we are currently in discussions about the future perspectives that will inform a rejuvenated ACP Group and the future direction and priorities that are to be determined for a renewed ACP-EU Cooperation. That cooperation is bound by Treaty as an inter-governmental agreement recognised by the UN. And so the process of engagement and consultation to lead to a future post-2020 agreement must include Non State Actors.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the last 42 years of our existence, the ACP’s consistent and active choice has been UNITY as the key building block and centre piece of what the ACP Group stands for in the struggle to end poverty – in all its forms and everywhere (SDG 1). That too is the basis of our cooperation with the European Union.
This emphasis on Unity was clearly articulated at the level of the 7th ACP Summit, held in Sipopo in Equatorial Guinea in 2012, and it remains our guide on the way forward.
Lack of Unity will serve merely to reduce the role of the ACP as an effective global player in the vitally important issues of today’s turbulent times. Our immediate resolve is therefore to remain firmly committed to the decisions of 7th and 8th Summit of the ACP Heads of State and Government, and subsequent ACP relevant Declarations that build on critically assessing the achievements of the Cotonou Agreement. In so doing, we also prepare for progressive change and transformed relations that are rooted in the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Unity and a common approach of solidarity should therefore continue to be the light to guide ACP discussions on challenges related to a more powerful and dynamic future of our Organisation. My hope is that this NSA consultation process will further deepen the ongoing dialogue, and enrich the ACP’s future in a changing international, political, economic and social context.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Cotonou Agreement provides the legal framework to actively engage NSAs in policy dialogue and in the implementation of development cooperation programs.
Article 4 of the Cotonou Agreement, states that: where appropriate, Non State Actors are to ‘be informed, and involved in consultation on cooperation policies and strategies, on priorites for cooperation especially in areas that concern or directly affect them, and on the political dialogue’. Article 6 of the Cotonou Agreement states that Non-State Actors, comprise of the “private sector, economic and social partners, including trade union organisations, and civil society in all its forms according to national characteristics’. On that basis, Meetings of the ACP Civil Society Forum were held in 2001, 2006 and 2009.
The discussions emphasized, inter alia, the long term objective to have Capacity Building initiatives at the national, regional and ALL-ACP levels to prepare ACP Civil Society for an effective exchange of information and expertise; to have an all inclusive grass root orientation that involves rural population; to support and strengthen civil society participation in structured levels of policy dialogue on development cooperation with the relevant ACP-EU institutions. [It will be valuable to learn of the outcomes of those meetings since 2009, as well as the challenges faced within the Cotonou provisions]. We have now enlarged that gathering to include private sector and Representatives of social and economic committees in ACP Member States.
This reflects an even wider engagement with the Non-State Actors, and is indicative of the ACP Group’s intention to further deepen and strengthen our consultation with the all stakeholders in the current ACP-EU Partnership.
Our meeting is also timely in allowing for further discussion on the recently approved policy framework of the ACP Group in the document “TOWARDS THE ACP WE WANT”.
Contained therein are the 3 strategic pillars on which will be built the post-Cotonou negotiating mandate to engage the EU in formal thematic negotiations expected to begin by August 2018. These pillars are:
a) Trade, Investment, Industrialisation and services
b) Development Cooperation, Technology, Science & Innovation, Research; and
c) Political Dialogue and Advocacy.
In the adoption of these strategic pillars, the ACP Group therefore welcomes their close alignment with the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and its People Centred approach, with the guiding tenets of ‘No One Left Behind’.
That vision enshrines the demand, inter alia, to have inclusive communities, reduce inequalities and create a conducive environment which facilitates a thriving private sector that in turn, provides meaningful jobs and decent work, particularly for women and youth. Achievement of these goals will ultimately depend on the political and economic stability of our democratic countries, whether they be Landlocked, Least Developed, Middle Income or Small Island Development States.
As a Group we are aware that the current 2030 SDGs, are set against the backdrop of a certain degree of accomplishments that were achieved at the global level by 2015. We are therefore encouraged by indicators that revealed positive developments, such as global poverty being halved five years ahead of the 2015 deadline; that 90% of children in developing countries now benefit from primary education, and that there is a reduction of the gender disparities in the enrolment of students in our schools.
Perhaps our discussions can include recent challenges to the environmental dimensions of the SDGs which by the onslaught of disasters that threaten the very existence and sustainability of our communities. Their impact is the unfortunate and unwelcome reality of deaths, displaced persons, fractured and damaged economies and destroyed livelihoods in our communities.
The very essence and future aspirations for sustainable development, along with achievements that as Representatives of Governments and Civil Society, have been accomplished, at national, regional and all-ACP levels, can be so easily wiped away in a very short period, in the face of natural disasters.
This realisation not only acutely highlights our vulnerability (particularly in terms of lost lives and livelihoods) compounded by increased global warming and intense environmental disasters, but also strongly reinforces the need of inclusivity. Precisely because economic recovery CANNOT be discussed and attained if civil society, economic and social partners and private sector entities are not actively engaged in the consultative and implementation processes, which successful recovery requires.
Recent events readily portray the scale of natural disasters and unwelcome consequences of hundreds of lost lives, the thousands of displaced persons and livelihoods, the significant damage to the public and private infrastructure in both the West African and Caribbean region.
In the case of Sierra Leone, devastating mudslides and flash floods due to heavy rain 14th August 2017, resulted in more than 400 fatalities, with 600 people reported missing and over 3000 people currently displaced and in urgent need of temporary housing.
In the Caribbean, during early September, Hurricane IRMA and ten days later, another fierce Category 5 Hurricane MARIA, caused more than 40 fatalities, hundreds of missing persons, thousands displaced (including 20,000 children) and in the worst affected islands, 100% of agriculture and tourism sectors destroyed, 100% of the population impacted and left with an urgent need of emergency supplies, temporary housing and employment.
These events make us even more sensitized to the onslaught of natural disasters in our regions; the importance of resilient communities; and increased acknowledgement of the levels of vulnerability of our populations, particularly the poorly unplanned infrastructure, water, sanitation and public health systems in ACP urban areas.
Confronting such challenges, we must turn towards deepening our solidarity and strengthening the resolve to share knowledge and ingenuity from our own experiences.
Dear Friends,
I trust that our discussions today and tomorrow will give direction for an action oriented engagement between Civil Society, Economic and Social Partners and the Private Sector that can reinforce our capacity to achieve the 2030 SDGs.
This can further reaffirm the ACP Group’s political commitment, explicitly expressed at the 2016 Conference of our Heads of State and Government, which stated:
“We commit ourselves to strengthening coordination and dialogue among our States, in all international fora, so that our numbers will work in favour of creating reforms to the multilateral architecture that will serve our interests and enhance the role of our Group, in all areas of global governance in order to contribute to the development of our States and meet the expectations of our peoples”.
More than ever before, we need political will, sound leadership, effective action and a dynamic sense of urgency to construct a multi-dimensional and all inclusive approach to address these global challenges.
Ongoing exchange of experiences will hopefully help us deliver at the national, regional, continental, all-ACP, and global levels tangible results for the benefit of our societies. Only then will we be on an all-ACP path to sustainable development, the eradication of extreme poverty and gender sensitive and people centred policies and development cooperation programmes – giving ‘a voice to the voiceless’, particularly the poor, the vulnerable, the orphans, the youth, the homeless, the displaced, the unemployed, the disabled, the exploited human beings and trafficked migrants.
I therefore encourage all to strongly make your priorities known, as we strive together to carve out an all- ACP inclusive path that ensures NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND.
Patrick I. Gomes
ACP Secretary General