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POLITICS: Concern Mounts Over Delay in Ratification of EU-ACP Partnership Agreement

Brian Kenety

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Mar 22 2001 (IPS) - Concern is mounting that further delay in ratifying a 20-year ‘partnership agreement’ between 15 European Union (EU) member states and 77 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, could jeopardise its primary objective: to eradicate poverty.

No EU member state has ratified the nine-month old Cotonou Agreement, which governs EU-ACP political, trade and aid relations, and only a handful of ACP states have done so. It can only enter into force when two-thirds of the ACP states, all EU member states and the European Parliament have ratified or approved it.

“[The delay] is very disappointing and we should all be concerned about it,” Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told this week’s meeting of the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly. The four-day meeting ended here Thursday. He noted that funding from the ninth European Development Fund (EDF) cannot be released until the Cotonou Agreement is ratified.

The vice president of the national assembly of Mali, one of the few states to have ratified the partnership agreement, questioned the resolve of Europe to honour the accord. “I am not convinced that the EU member states are prepared to ratify,” said Assarid ag Imbarcouane.

His view was echoed by Nigerian MP Abubakar Bawa-Bwari, who questioned “the sincerity of the EU’s commitment” and by Euro MP Didier Rod (France) who wondered aloud if EU member states that had opposed the agreement were now trying to undermine it.

Nielson, pledging to press the point with EU and ACP ministers, rejected charges that any delay stemmed from “a lack of resolve”. Furthermore, to applause, he said it was the European Commission’s “clear position” that the EDF should be incorporated into the EU budget and therefore subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as demanded by Euro MPs Nirj Deva (United Kingdom) and Anders Wijkman (Sweden).

The EU-ACP Council of Ministers adopted transitional measures to cover the period until the formal entry into force of the agreement, and on an early application of most of the provisions. However, EDF resources cannot take effect before the financial protocol attached to the Cotonou Agreement is ratified.

Hidipo Hamutenya, President of the ACP Council of Ministers, opening Wednesday’s session of the assembly said there was therefore an “urgent need” to ratify the accord and to prepare for forthcoming EU-ACP trade negotiations.

In order to utilise to the full the 3.5 billion euro (3.15 million dollars) made available to the ACP states under the EDF, he said, co- operation must be managed locally to the greatest degree possible. Otherwise, said Hamutenya, it would be impossible to “silence the criticisms to the effect that the EU is only seeking its own interests in [seeking] co-operation”.

The Namibian minister for trade and industry also said that other imperative measures to build confidence included ACP capacity building, the delegation of powers to authorities in the beneficiary countries, and the simplification of contracts for the utilisation of resources.

The EU and ACP have agreed to conclude new trading arrangements which will progressively remove barriers to trade, enhance co-operation in all related areas, and be implemented in full compatibility with provisions of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

EU development policy is also moving away from supporting specific projects, looking instead to fund programmes, so as to allow greater flexibility as to how monies are spent in recipient countries and, in future, on the regional rather than country level.

Poverty reduction and access to social services are prominent objectives of the Cotonou Agreement; more generally, the Commission has identified the fight against poverty, with a particular focus on health and education, as one of its priorities for 2002.

But important aspects of the Cotonou Agreement, such as the definition of ‘programming regions’ and the possible regions for negotiating the future EU-ACP trade regime, remain to be clarified. The accord specifies that the definition of the regions be decided by the ACP states, and that these should have a mandate for economic integration.

Hamutenya, recalling that the new EU-ACP trade negotiations are to begin in September 2002, said there was little time left for the ACP to carry out much-needed impact studies on the different types of agreements and the possible regional configurations.

He noted that the ACP had already designated their 18 participants on the Joint Ministerial Trade Committee which would steer the negotiations and urged his European counterparts to do the same.

Under the ninth EDF, and also the previous EDF, which ran from 1995-2000, resources were earmarked for regional co-operation, but remain unspent. The EU believes that strong regional organisations will strengthen the bargaining position of ACP countries within bodies such as the WTO, foster south-south trade and therefore development and security.

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