An anticipated new framework for cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the 71 country-Africa, Carribean and Pacific (ACP) grouping will look very different from the current Fourth Lomé Convention, which expires in the year 2000. It may not carry the same name; and its is likely to have a strong political dimension added to the trade and aid features of the previous accords. While formal negotiations on a successor agreement are scheduled to begin only next September, an intensive debate is already underway as to how recent changes in the world scene will be reflected.
Mr. Michel Rocard, former Prime Minister of France and President of the Committee of Development and Cooperation of the European Parliament, in a public address at UNCTAD, today laid out the European Parliament’s vision of what a new agreement might look like. Mr. Rocard said that in the absence of any pronouncements from the EU’s Council of Minister on the subject, the Parliament had become the "driving force for a thoroughgoing reform of the ACP agreement", fundamentally changing the nature of the relationship between Europe and this group of developing countries - the largest such cooperation pact in the world. Mr. Rocard spoke during a three-week seminar (12-30 January) of UNCTAD’s TRAINFORTRADE Programme on International Commercial Diplomacy and Policy (a human resource development programme for trade policy-makers from developing countries).
In setting out the anticipated features of the new EU-ACP cooperation framework, he stressed that a whole array of difficult technical and legal issues, many of them involving the World Trade Organization (WTO), would need to be worked out. UNCTAD, given its expertise in trade and development issues and its impartiality, could provide precious assistance in this regard, the former french Prime Minister said he had told Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, at talks they held this morning. UNCTAD has separately embarked on discussions with the European Commission - the European Union’s executive body - in Brussels on comparing respective approaches to possible future arrangements for the ACP countries.
Fundamental changes have occurred since the negotiation of previous Lomé conventions, requiring a reshaping of the EU-ACP cooperation legal framework, Mr. Rocard said. The WTO had been created and, in principle, opposed the granting of any asymmetrical trade preferences such as those enshrined in Lomé IV. The Marrakesh Agreements which concluded the Uruguay Round had, however, provided for a waiver in order to accommodate preferences for developing countries until February 2000. Mr. Rocard considered that, with regard to the trade preferences for ACP countries, it might therefore be appropriate either to reach an agreement within the WTO on a longer transition period, or else for Europe to establish trade arrangements with the ACP countries that were compatible with WTO rules, while providing compensation to soften the blow. "The EU will want to negotiate as detailed and as long as possible a transition period with the WTO", he stressed.
Highlighting another serious difficulty that he anticipated, Mr. Rocard said that a general waiver for asymmetrical preferences that were subject to annual consideration by the WTO would create instability in each product, inhibiting private investment.
Mr. Rocard pointed out that African countries were moving towards the creation of regional entities within the continent. The Treaty of Abuja adopted by 48 African countries in 1995, distinguished between five separate regions as a preparatory step towards greater economic and financial regional integration. Recognizing the geographical and economical differences between the regions, a new concept of an EU-ACP umbrella framework that might cover different regional agreements was therefore making headway.
Since the Lomé agreements were first launched, in 1963, Europe had evolved from an economic community to a political union. A political dimension would thus have to be added to the framework, possibly embodied in a longer-term, or permanent, convention than the purely economic and financial aspects. Assistance in the prevention of conflicts, which were a major obstacle to development, and the promotion of democracy could also be incorporated. In the same vein, good governance should be a central feature of development cooperation agreements, although he was aware that important questions of national sovereignty were raised by these issues.
Turning to the difficult political problem of migrant workers in the EU, at a time of high unemployment, and with the accompanying racism that had ensued, Mr. Rocard suggested that one novel dimension which could be included in the future convention would be the professional training of citizens of ACP countries within the EU. This would reverse the braindrain in the ACP countries and allow former migrants to become part of the development solution in their own countries, while easing the immigration problem in the EU.
The new framework should also be based on a true partnership and avoid a relationship dominated by the donor countries. ACP countries themselves should set their priorities in order to appropriate their own development.
Mr. Rocard also favoured more decentralized cooperation between the EU and ACP countries, both at the level of local communities and NGOs, to enhance efficiency.
Given the current socio-economic situation in the donor countries and other demands on their development assistance budgets, particularly from Central and Eastern Europe, Mr. Rocard dismissed any expectations of an increase in the present aid allocation to the ACP countries. This amounts to ECU 12 billion over five years under the terms of the present Lomé Convention. It would be a major achievement even to maintain this level of assistance, he said.
Efforts towards poverty eradication needed to be based on partnership also at the grass-root level. There was already a consensus that support should be extended to micro-credit in ACP countries, including by giving it a legal status and establishing a code of conduct between micro-credit institutions and banks. Cutting edge technology applied at the local community level should also receive attention. Finally, Mr. Rocard advocated a more inward-looking development strategy; a country did not develop by relying exclusively on exports. Much more importance should be attached to domestic market development for local products, for instance through support to advertising for national goods - reversing the taste for imports.