Africa, Development & Aid, Europe, Headlines

DEVELOPMENT-EU/ACP: Pomp and Circumstance As Cotonou Agreement is Signed

Brian Kenety

COTONOU, Benin, Jun 23 2000 (IPS) - The road to the ‘Friendship Stadium’ in the capital of Benin is paved – but only just.

With thick streaks of soil encroaching upon it, the journey for the throngs of motorbike taxis that clog its single lane, is a treacherous one.

On Friday afternoon, however, the road took on a different hue.

Alongside the makeshift shanties and workshops, the traffic gave way to a parade of official delegations. It was unlike anything seen before in this West African nation – among the poorest in the world.

The delegations included finance and development ministers from the 15 European Union (EU) and 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group states, on their way to sign the Cotonou Agreement, the new trade and aid agreement that will govern relations between the two groups for the next 20 years.

It was a year and a half in the making and is expected to take 15 to 18 months for the new agreement to be ratified by all the partner countries.

“There is an African proverb which says that the new plant grows in old soil,” Mathieu Kirekou, the 67-year-old president of Benin, said in a thundering voice full of emotion, by way of paying homage to those who had done the work that led to the new accord and to those who would seek to implement it.

“We must all stand together. The messenger has come to give you good news,” he said amidst cheers of delight.

The Agreement promises to ensure sustainable development “with a human face – and human beings must be the beneficiaries” of the accord, said Kirekou. He noting that it had the eradication of poverty as its “fundamental pillar.”

Anciet Georges Dologuele, President of the ACP Council of Ministers and prime minister of the Central African Republic, said the Agreement comes at a time of great economic and commercial integration and important changes and interventions in recent years on the international scene.

“In effect, the objective of the Cotonou Agreement is to give the countries of the ACP the means to relieve the negative effects of globalisation and allow them to adapt to the new requirements of international commerce and to strengthen their capacity to attract the necessary investment necessary for them to production and greater volumes and therefore be more competitive,” he said.

The current European Development Fund (2000-2007), the mechanism through which the Commission disburses aid to ACP states, was set at 13.5 billion euros.

In real terms, the aid volume will be three percent less than the previous fund, a fact which doesn’t sit well with ACP delegates.

“It is clear that to truly achieve the eradication of poverty, the mobilisation of adequate financial measures is dispensable,” said Dologuele, yet “a number of ACP countries are being crushed by a debt burden that undermines all of their efforts towards development.”

“Certainly the European Union does not remain insensitive to modern times, but there is still much to do and I would like here on this occasion that this ceremony offers to launch a solemn appeal to the international community to finally ensure that the question of development is not discounted,” he said.

Poul Nielson, the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told the audience that the signing of the new Agreement clearly demonstrated that “in a globalised world there is still room for a true and deep relationship between the North and the South (…) this date constitutes the beginning of a new era of a relationship based on a profound reform of the spirit, the objectives and the practice of our co-operation.”

Under the previous accord, the Lome Convention, trade co- operation between the two groups largely took the form of preferential tariffs.

In future, economic and trade co-operation will consist of a more comprehensive set of arrangements, noted Nielson.

Elaborating the framework agreement between the two groups of countries “with a view to addressing together major challenges such as poverty, conflicts and wars, environmental and technological marginalisation, was not an easy task,” he said.

“The new process approach aiming at establishing new trading arrangements is crucial to improving the ACP countries’ capacity to trade and to attract international private investment.

“It will be accompanied by appropriate support with a view to easing the transition and to prepare for a more dynamic and equitable participation in the international economic system,” said Nielson.

Although the signing ceremony was largely a celebration, with a generous display of dance and song by the different peoples of Benin in traditional dress, the difficulty of the task that lay ahead – the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty – was spelt out by each and every speaker.

Luis Amado, the Portuguese minister for development, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, until it passes to France on July 1, also noted that globalisation, “by increasing interdependence, offers new opportunities for trade, investment and access to knowledge.

But it also brings the risk of accentuating inequalities and of marginalizing countries which are unable to seize these opportunities.”

The economic situation in many ACP states has deteriorated over the past few years and poverty has increased, he said, “which goes a long way to explaining the increasing number of armed conflicts and emergencies, particularly in Africa.”

From 1975 to 2000, almost 30 billion euros were committed to the ACP states under Lome I -IV Conventions. Despite that investment, 39 of the now 77 ACP states still belong to the group of least developed countries.

The ACP group includes over 75 percent of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs).

Amado noted in his speech that an improved trade regime for LDCs, not just those in the ACP group, is envisaged so that by 2005 LDC exporters will have free access to the EU market “for essentially all products.”

He said that pursuing active policies on peace-keeping, strengthening security and preventing and resolving conflicts was now “an integral part of the stronger political dialogue that we mean to conduct.” The new Agreement has put an emphasis on accountability of the state concerned and allows greater flexibility in the consultation procedure.

Rather than focusing on specific, and sometimes isolated initiatives, the Cotonou Agreement aims at influencing the context in which development can take placed and be stimulated.

The co-operation strategy that has been agreed makes clear the link between development support and the establishment of a policy framework favourable to trade, development and investment.

The reform of the ACP-EC development finance co-operation system also represents a major step towards increased efficiency, flexibility and coherence.

“There will be regular progress reviews of the preparations and arrangements to ensure that the introduction of regional partnership agreements is a success,” noted Amado.

The new Agreement leaves room for the development of additional reference texts and annexes that further define issues relating to more specific policies, strategies and implementation of the accord, noted Eurostep, a European network of 22 development organisations, in welcoming the successor to the Lome Convention. However, the organisation notes that the signatories still need to devise specific mechanisms and strategies for its implementation.

In the 1990s, the EU executive Commission became the world’s fifth largest donor of development aid. Together with aid from its 15 member states, the EU provides more than 50 percent of all aid going to ACP countries.

Problems with EU external aid programmes – widespread delays in delivery, abandoned projects, staff shortages, infighting between Commission departments and an increasingly large gap between the allocation and disbursement of funding – were the impetus for a comprehensive Action Plan drawn up in May by EU development ministers.

The internal reforms underway within the European Commission will also contribute to improve the quality and efficiency of the process, said Nielson.

“We have achieved a highly important Agreement which I fear can be undermined by the political situation in a lot countries, by giving a wrong image of the ACP as a whole and of this special and privileged relationship with the European Union,” he said.

“One of the necessary conditions to do this is to work in an environment which is politically stable and respectful of human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance. The Community will be behind you and together with you to achieve this objective,” said Nielson.

 
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DEVELOPMENT-EU/ACP: Pomp and Circumstance As Cotonou Agreement is Signed

Brian Kenety

COTONOU, Benin, Jun 23 2000 (IPS) - The road to the ‘Friendship Stadium’ in the capital of Benin is paved – but only just.
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