Economy & Trade, Europe, Headlines

TRADE-EU: ACP Legislators Review Progress on Cotonou Agreement

Brian Kenety

BRUSSELS, Oct 30 2001 (IPS) - Parliamentarians from the 77-member state Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and the European Union (EU) are concerned that reform not be stymied by the Sep 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The legislators are meeting in Brussels this week as part of an ongoing assessment of development and trade relations.

ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly co-president John Corrie, a member of the European Parliament, set the tone for discussions in his opening address to the body, which meets twice yearly, as called for in the Cotonou Agreement.

“We must strive to achieve security, non-discrimination, equity, tolerance and justice,” he said at the start of the four- day session Monday. “In a world with less poverty and governance, would there be so much disaffection and disillusionment?”

The reduction of poverty is the principle aim of the Cotonou Agreement, which was signed in Benin in June 2000. Corrie noted with urgency that the World Bank has estimated a further 10 million people would suffer from poverty next year as a result of the Sep 11 attacks and the United States-led ‘war on terrorism’ now being waged in Afghanistan.

Corrie said the body needed to redouble its efforts to promote two closely linked principles underpinning the ACP-EU pact – tolerance and conflict prevention.

For his part, Belgian development minister Eddy Boutmans, whose country now holds the rotating EU presidency, said that to make a direct link between poverty and terrorism was “too reductive” an argument, but that a sense of exclusion could result in violent conflict.

There was no doubt that the current crisis would have an impact on economic activity throughout the world, he said, but “special relations” between the ACP and the EU could help ease tensions by serving the interests of the poor.

This was a theme also touched on by assembly co-president Louis Serge Clair. He noted the body had contributed to the process of rapprochement by dispatching missions to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Sudan and Zimbabwe in the past two years.

EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Poul Nielson, addressing the body Tuesday before taking questions from parliamentarians on a wide range of issues, said the events of Sep 11 had cast a “long shadow” that should not be underestimated.

“Those events have affected us all and demand a response from all of us. In Cotonou we have a partnership which promotes development with a view to contributing to peace and security and promoting a stable democratic environment,” he said, welcoming the chance to review co- operation within the ACP-EU context.

“However, if we are serious about promoting a more just world, we have also to re-double our efforts to fight all causes of instability, of which poverty is one of the most important,” said Nielson.

“Although it is true that poverty is not the only reason or cause for instability in the world, it is beyond any doubt that poverty is part of the reason that we have these terrible problems,” he said.

The EU’s top development official said that in the past, resources were too dispersed for the parties to be able to work effectively towards the shared goals.

Nielson said that the European Commission, the EU executive branch, would seek a much greater concentration of efforts under the 9th European Development Fund (EDF), the mechanism through which EU funds are distributed to the ACP countries, the vast majority of which are former European colonies.

“We will also move progressively from support for individual, isolated projects, whose impact is limited by their lack of linkages with other activities, to sector programmes and macroeconomic support tackling the anti-poverty agenda in a more consistent and effective way,” said Nielson.

He noted that in the next year there would be a number of key opportunities to promote what he called a “global deal” for developing countries.

“Doha, Monterrey and Johannesburg define the framework for this deal. We need to re-affirm the development goals set at international level, but we need also to take concrete steps to attain them,” he said.

The three are the cities where the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the UN-sponsored conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey and the World Summit on Sustainable Development would take place.

“Next week in Doha offers the chance to create a ‘development round’, to liberalise the international trading system in a way that will truly benefit developing countries. The WTO will meet with the threat of recession hanging over the world economy, so the boost which improved trading arrangements can give is vital, not just to the developed world,” said Nielson.

He said concrete steps to counter the decline in aid flows and to meet internationally agreed targets were needed if the internationally agreed goal to halve world poverty by 2015 could be met.

Nielson said the Commission would be moving “progressively from support for individual, isolated projects, whose impact is limited by their lack of linkages with other activities, to sector programmes and macroeconomic support tackling the anti-poverty agenda in a more consistent and effective way”.

He said that country strategies had been prepared for 50 ACP states, of which 37 had been reviewed in Brussels.

The drafts reviewed show a concentration in transport and macro- economic support – including budget financing for the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers required by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to qualify for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiatives – with emphasis on health and education.

One of the key features of the Cotonou Agreement is the strong political commitment made by all parties to extend the partnership to a wide range of non-state actors. This participation – which includes the private sector, social partners and the full range of civil society actors – is also believed to contribute to conflict prevention.

“Civil society is to be actively involved in the programming exercise for the first time in almost 50 years of EU cooperation with the ACP States. This new approach means searching for new partners, extending our information outreach, inventing new working methods and indeed, very often, changing our mentality,” said Nielson, noting that the process therefore could be a lengthy one.

“How can we assess the process so far? It is, of course, difficult for us here in Brussels to have a precise view of all that has happened in the field,” he said.

Nonetheless, he described the results of a preliminary assessment conducted on 39 draft strategy papers as “encouraging”. In nearly 80 percent of the cases, he said, a process of consultation has taken place with non-state actors.

In two thirds of these cases the consultation has led to modifications in the draft-strategy paper “which indicates that the process has been more than just a formality”.

 
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