With its conclusion delayed from 2019, the post-Cotonou negotiations between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU) was scheduled to conclude this March and reviewed at a meeting of the ACP Council. When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, the restrictions in Belgium and elsewhere further set back the agenda for concluding these negotiations.
In April, with the entry into force of the revised Georgetown Agreement, the ACP became the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). Thus, the agreement will now be between the member states of OACPS and the EU. Through virtual means, the ACP ambassadors and the EU technical team in Brussels resumed the negotiations.
Work on the two parts of the agreement, the foundation and the regional protocols have gathered pace with the aim of concluding negotiations as quickly as possible. It appears that, in the foundation negotiations, there were sticking points on sensitive political issues. ACP countries also want to see an agreement with a clear link between the foundation and regional protocols, as the regional protocols should not be seen as separate instruments.
Further on the protocols, as expected, the heading, mobility and migration is proving a difficult issue between the EU and African countries. It is also a concern for the Caribbean, as the EU seems reluctant to address this issue in any detail. This heading addresses travelling and working in the EU and, for the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries, this is linked to their Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Development cooperation is yet to be treated in these negotiations. You may recall that the EU integrated the European Development Fund (EDF), from which the ACP was financed, into its proposed new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) (its budget) for the six-year cycle, 2021-2027. The ACP will now be funded from its Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument. The MFF 2021-2027 is still to be approved by the EU Council. In addition, the EU is now looking at an economic recovery programme for members affected by COVID-19. Recall, too, that it had a funding gap created by Brexit. It would not be surprising if EU funding to the OACPS is reduced.
During the week of June 8, the OACPS Central Negotiating Group (CNG) met to consider the draft texts and review the status of the negotiations. CARIFORUM is represented in this Ministerial Group by Guyana and Jamaica. The chair is Minister Robert Dussey of Togo. This meeting was followed by a meeting on June 11-12 of the lead negotiators, the OACPSâ€™s Minister Dussey and the EUâ€™s International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. They agreed that work will be expedited with the aim of concluding negotiations by July. I gather that the lead negotiators plan to meet again before the end of this month.
CARIFORUM member states would want to review the draft text before the negotiations are formally concluded. Suriname, which recently had general elections, should assume the chair of CARIFORUM on July 1. An early meeting of the OACPS Council would also be necessary.
Both lead negotiators, in their press release, stated that the agreement remained a priority. They assessed the negotiations as progressing well, in a cordial spirit, in spite of COVID-19, and they were moving closer to conclusion. Dussey stated that the new agreement would take into account the unprecedented challenges now confronting the countries due to COVID-19.
The OACPS convened a summit on June 3 to specifically address the economic fallout from COVID-19. The Heads of Government called for modalities for prevention, preparedness, and recovery measures for pandemics to be included in the post-Cotonou agreement. CARIFORUM Heads used to summit to express their concern that the EU had unilaterally placed four members on its List of High Risk Third Countries on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. They appealed to them to place a moratorium on implementation to facilitate dialogue with the commission.
So, the negotiations to cement this â€˜partnership of equalsâ€™ is now accelerating to reach the finish line before August.
This article was originally published by the Jamaica Gleaner and submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics.