The European Commission presented on Tuesday (12 December) a recommendation to the Council including a long-awaited proposal for how to proceed in new trade negotiations with the countries of Africa, Caribbean, and the Pacific Group of States (ACP).
Cooperation between the European Union and the ACP Group will reach a crossroads in 2020, when the Cotonou Agreement, established in 2000, expires. The agreement governs relations between the EU and 79 partner countries.
EU member states have expressed their positions through a public consultation on the future of the Cotonou Agreement, launched by the Commission. The results of the consultation had revealed a number of diverging opinions between EU governments.
Some EU members support a continuation of the current framework, which is binding on both parties, while others would like to see greater flexibility. Development Commissioner Neven Mimica has supported the idea of a binding agreement.
Bu the idea to enlarge the successor of the Cotonou agreement to Latin America and Asia has apparently been dropped.
The next step is a decision by the Council on the authorisation to open negotiations, expected in the first half of 2018. The Cotonou Agreement foresees the opening of talks by August 2018 at the latest. By the time the negotiations are finished, the UK will probably have left the EU and not be bound by the new deal.
More tailored regional approach
The Commission proposes that the future partnership with the ACP countries builds on the strengths of the long-standing cooperation while building on a more regionally tailored approach.
Its recommendation proposes to have one single agreement, articulated into a common foundation with the ACP countries and three regional compacts: for the African region, the Caribbean and the Pacific region.
The common foundation agreement, according to the recommendation, should focus on common principles and the overarching objectives of EU-ACP cooperation, including at international level.
African region and migration
The priorities proposed by the Commission for the EU Africa Compact focus on achieving peace and stability, consolidating democracy and good governance, unleashing economic opportunities, reaching human development standards, managing migration and mobility as well as addressing climate change.
The proposal is in line with the outcome of the recent AU-EU Summit held in Abidjan.
It also seeks to strengthen the ‘One Africa approach’ and foresees a strong involvement of North African countries, in full respect for the existing bilateral association agreements of the EU with the North African countries.
Caribbean region and regional integration
The Commission sees a number of key areas of cooperation with the Caribbean: addressing climate change, vulnerability, citizen security, good governance, human rights, human development and social cohesion. Deepening regional integration, fostering inclusive sustainable growth, trade and job creation, fighting inequalities and reducing natural disasters effects are also high on the agenda.
EU-Pacific region and natural disasters
A large number of island nations and their huge maritime territories make the Pacific countries an important player for the EU in tackling global challenges, particularly with respect to their vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change. Other priorities should focus on good governance, human rights and inclusive sustainable growth.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini was quoted as saying that the EU and the ACP countries, which together represent more than 100 countries (more than half of the UN member states), have an important role in shaping the global agenda and international cooperation.
Development Commissioner Mimica said that for the EU, reviewing the partnership with the ACP countries is a “unique opportunity to shape a true partnership of equals, moving beyond traditional donor-recipient perceptions”.
“Only together can we achieve sustainable development. Only our joint commitment can lead us to tangible results in areas such as economic growth, jobs and investment or climate change and bring forward the sustainable development agenda,” Mimica said.
It remains to be seen what will be the reaction of the ACP countries to the Commission’s recommendation. The ACP Council of Ministers has recently passed a resolution strongly condemning the “unilateral and discriminatory practices” of the EU in publishing a list of “non-cooperative tax jurisdictions”, which includes eight ACP states.