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Reshaping European partnerships: what future for the ACP?

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:30
Hero image description: Glenys Kinnock Image license:Creative Commons

Glenys Kinnock MEP and Co-President of the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly
Adrian Hewitt, Research Fellow and Research Adviser to APGOOD, ODI
Sir Michael McWilliam, ODI Council Member

1. Sir Michael McWilliam welcomed the audience and introduced the two speakers.

2. Glenys Kinnock had recently returned from attending the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancún, where she had observed a remarkable purpose and solidarity among the ACP countries. This solidarity had translated into an effective negotiation strategy and had made the ACP more powerful and influential than ever before. For her, the 'Cancún experience' was very encouraging and augured well, both for the future of the ACP, and for the success of the trade round.

3. Traditionally, the ACP had been described as a 'strange hybrid'. However, there had been a strong sense of solidarity, purpose and identity in the relationship of the European Union with the ACP countries, around issues such as poverty reduction, human rights and health. Glenys Kinnock believed that this rich history should not and would not be bargained away. She noted that the association had remained strong, and that, although numbers had grown, there had been no demand to join from e.g. large Asian or Latin American states.

4. It should be emphasised that the ACP-EU relationship was not passive. Together, the ACP countries accounted for only 2.8 % of EU exports and 3.4 % of EU imports. However, the EU is the most important economic partner for many ACP countries. New applicants for inclusion in the Cotonou Agreement had to join the ACP first, and countries had to work together, because the agreement of all of them was needed before financial agreements could be signed. 40 out of the 78 member states of the ACP are least developed countries (LDCs).

5. There were issues for the future. Regarding the ongoing negotiations about Economic Partnerships Agreements (EPAs), reciprocity could not and should not be expected from the ACP. Instead, the policy of 'special and differential treatment' needed to be extended. Furthermore, more attention needed to be given to the transition period. High technical standards set by the EU continued to constitute important barriers for trade for the ACP countries.

6. On aid, Glenys Kinnock welcomed the proposed inclusion of the European Development Fund (EDF) into the overall EU budget. This would ensure the necessary parliamentary oversight. However, resources for ACP countries should be ring-fenced within the budget.

7. Another issue for the ACP's future was the coordination between the recent regional integration processes, especially in Africa, and the preservation of the 'special' relationship with the EU, e.g. in form of the planned EPAs. Glenys Kinnock argued strongly that the solidarity of the ACP should be preserved. Once fractured, for example on trade, a 'Humpty Dumpty' factor would prevail: solidarity could not be rebuilt.

8. Adrian Hewitt, Research Fellow, ODI, and Research Adviser to APGOOD, started his presentation with a historical overview of the EU-ACP relationship since 1975. With the ACP's founding Georgetown agreement, which preceded the signing of Lome, the previously mainly Africa-based group was extended to include other parts of the developing world.

9. General successes of the EU-ACP partnership had been demonstrated by:

  • the Lomé conventions;
  • the mingling of francophone and anglophone countries;
  • the extension from 46 to 78 member countries, which represent half of the developing world (yet not the big players such as Brazil or India);
  • the long duration of the Cotonou agreement (20 years);
  • the transcontinental character of the group, comparable to the G77; and
  • that no country had left the ACP in thirty years.

11. Specific achievements of the partnership included:

  • a multiyear aid fund (the EDF);
  • market access for the ACP countries without reciprocity;
  • political neutrality until the end of the Cold War (which was subsequently supplanted by the emphasis on good governance and human rights issues);
  • the protocols on primary commodities; and
  • innovations such as the Stabex programme.

12. However, Adrian Hewitt asserted that after 28 years of existence, things were not as positive as they were in the 1970s. Except for the EDF (a five-year, conditional agreement within the Cotonou framework), none of the other specific successes described above had remained. Even the Sugar Protocol would run out by 2008 at the latest. Most importantly, there was a visible split in the ACP between the LDCs and the rest of the countries with respect to trade issues. Most of the traditional trade preference elements of the partnership were not compatible with WTO regulations.

13. Adrian Hewitt went on to point out important flaws of the partnership:

  • the instruments of the Lomé conventions had mixed success;
  • the ACP countries took the 'neo-colonial' rather than the 'post-colonial' option in their trade relations with the EU so causing dependency;
  • the initial sense of solidarity was not capitalised on (compared with OPEC, for example);
  • the ACP was bound to erode further with the emergence of regional partnership agreements with the EU; and
  • the ACP too easily conceded non-reciprocity in the trade relationship.

14. Challenges for the future from the perspective of the ACP included:

  • to project ACP operationally beyond the EU and the European Commission in particular;
  • learn from the successful ACP members, like Mauritius, Botswana and the Bahamas
  • to establish global connections across traditional boundaries, i.e., making alliances with countries such as Brazil or Australia;
  • forge new relationships with countries in Central and Eastern Europe;
  • assist weaker and in some cases failed ACP member states (like Somalia or the Solomon Islands);
  • to use aid wisely, including unspent balances due;
  • to develop trade in services, including using the ACP diaspora

15. Finally, Adrian Hewitt proposed an alternative trade policy for the ACP. He recommended to seek institutional compensation for the erosion of trade preferences and the loss of non-reciprocity. He also welcomed the budgetisation of the EDF, but wanted it combined with faster disbursement of funds.

16. The following issues were raised in the discussion:

  • One member of the audience who had also been at Cancun questioned the leadership role of the ACP. Other groupings, she felt, had been more important, notably the G23 (which had some overlap with the ACP) and the LLDCs.
  • Another speaker emphasised the political aspects of the ACP-EU relationship, particularly the joint parliamentary Assembly and the joint Council of Ministers. Was the institutional structure of the EU-ACP partnership a role model for the overall relationship between developed and developing countries? And would it be sensible and feasible to broaden the membership of the ACP to include Asian and more Latin American countries?
  • Regarding the content of the Mid-Term Review of the Cotonou agreement next year, the main issues would concern the evaluation of the Country Strategy Papers and the future of the EDF. In particular, underperforming countries might be faced with a reduction in financial assistance.
  • Glenys Kinnock pointed out that the involvement of civil society in the Cotonou framework had generally been rather good. Unfortunately, there were no built-in incentives to engage national parliaments into the dialogue and many countries did not include them in the process.
  • The question was raised if the ACP could survive as a group. Regional talks would start with West Africa (ECOWAS) and CEMAC in the beginning of October. No other regional grouping so far could be named for negotiations. Opinions differed on whether the EU Commission was committed to continue multilateralism or emphasize the regional approach.


This event outlined the potential partnerships and future for Europe's relationship with Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Boothroyd Room