ACP in a Changing World Order

Published on 24th October 2017

The over-riding task for economic growth and development of our states is heavily dependent upon their enhanced, effective and more qualitative integration into the global trading system. We continue to face inherent structural and infrastructural constraints, and simultaneously, the development promise and prospective trade opportunities of the WTO Doha Round are fraught with uncertainties, while EPA implementations continue to stumble. 

This situation requires the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) to continually innovate and to adapt strategies, policies and measures to capture a larger share of global trade. Basically, our aim is to foster sustained and sustainable economic growth and development, promote employment creation and direct this to ending poverty (SDG 1).  

Opportunities are to be seized, arising from the dynamism of economic growth in emerging economies and also through South-South trade. We are trying to grasp these. I wish briefly to illustrate some concrete measures that the ACP Secretariat has been pursuing. 

An intra-ACP trade framework has been under consideration by ACP States on various occasions. However, doubts have persisted about how far the conclusion of a free trade agreement would actually succeed in promoting intra-ACP trade, given existing structural and competitiveness constraints, as well the fact that all ACP States have already entered into a range of bilateral, regional and multilateral free trade or economic integration agreements and/or are in various stages of negotiating these. They continue to consume our very limited human and financial resources. Hence we want to adopt a step-wise approach. 

In this regard, the ACP requested UNCTAD to assist in carrying out a “Study on the establishment of an intra-ACP framework for enhancement of trade and economic cooperation" and related opportunities. This has started with a mapping of intra-ACP trade opportunities.  

The UNCTAD representatives presented the outcome of their work to Senior Officials. Although further work is required, the Senior Officials and Secretariat are recommending the setting up of an ACP-wide trade portal for access and use by governments, business and civil society and other stakeholders. The trade portal will cover manufactures, commodities, services, investment and economic good practices across the South. 

These outcomes are related to the ACP-EU Post 2020 agreement, in what our Council of Ministers has carved out under Pillar 1 – a major shift from trade or trade cooperation, to address Trade, Investment, Industrialization and Services in an integrated and interrelated whole. That is our Pillar 1 as we look to Post-2020 negotiations.  

The role of the ACP will be catalytic and agenda setting - to facilitate and support the greater integration of our countries in the framework of their various regional processes, such as the Continental Free Trade agreement (CFTA) in Africa, or the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the Caribbean, to cite only these two.  

In the area of Economic Partnership Agreements, the Senior Officials received reports from the regional EPA configurations on the progress made in the EPA process. I note some progress but challenges remain. A common concern from the reports is the need to intensify exchange of experiences among our regions and ensure optimum cross fertilisation between regions.  

We need to respond to the legitimate fears which are founded on unquestionable desire to preserve proper policy space to enable better strategic responses to the aspirations of their people in the regions, especially those most in need.  A key challenge continues to be the undermining of cohesive integration arising from the existence of different trade regimes within the same regional economic community. Therefore, there is need to conduct concrete analysis of the result, effect and impact of EPAs, on trade and regional integration as well as on its consequences to the development of ACP States. Senior Officials have also recommended that this type of study be continued. 

This is necessary as we look to the future of the ACP-EU partnership, particularly also because BREXIT would have an impact on EPAs for many countries, as the United Kingdom is a significant market, for several of our Member States. 

Preparations for the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference that will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 10 – 13 December this year face difficulties related to the level of ambition and nature on the results. Knowing the role that the ACP plays in WTO, we have the responsibility to ensure that once again, we fully and vigorously take part in the process and voice the concerns of our Member States. 

There are changing dynamics in the WTO negotiations that undoubtedly are making the achievement of development-oriented results very difficult. We currently stand on shifting sand, to say the least. If the truth be told, recalling where we started from in Doha and where we are now in 2017, we are so far off course one could be forgiven for thinking that our compass & GPS may have been or is being hacked!!... Is it from Washington, Moscow or Beijing?? 

Even the language of the negotiations is shifting: from the days of abounding hope for success when we talked about “low-hanging fruit” and “early harvests,” we are now into leaner times of “small packages”, “deliverables” and “outcomes.” Even the Ministerial Declarations are getting leaner and shorter, not because Members have reached agreement on the outstanding issues but because reaching agreement is becoming harder. In the WTO it seems the passage of time hardens positions, making agreement almost impossible. 

Recent pronouncements by some major players and the realignments of international trade partnerships are causing consternation within the ACP Group. The risk of marginalization is real and growing. The ACP Group supports multilateralism that has a space on the table for small, weak and vulnerable economies, as opposed to protectionism which operates to the detriment of development for economically fragile countries.  

The ACP group needs to persistently pursue commitment, reaffirmation and agreement to multilateral institutions and negotiations. That is the only way that ACP States can be equitably integrated into the multilateral trading system. The ACP and the EU intend to send a clear message of solidarity in support of multilateralism.   

The other subject areas that need covering  include the implementation of a new approach to commodities, ACP-EU trade regime issues such as the state of play on the BREXIT process, non-tariff measures, commodities and fisheries, EU negotiations with third parties at a bilateral level and mini-lateral level on Trade in Services (TiSA) as well as the European Commission proposal on opening negotiations on a multilateral Investment Court.  

Let us draw on the comparative advantage of our collective wisdom and powerful political commitment to secure our common interests and serve all developing countries. 

By Patrick I. Gomes

ACP Secretary General.

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