Europe renews aid to ACP countriesDelegates pose for group photo following ceremonial opening of ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers meeting.
Thu, June 14, 2012 - 1:19 PM
PORT VILA, Vanuatu, Jun 14, CMC – The European Union Thursday said it would not reduce its level of assistance to the 76-member African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group despite the ongoing Eurozone economic crisis and fears by the developing countries of a loss in access to European markets after 2014.
“It is fair to say that the European Union is experiencing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. Nevertheless, I am glad to underline that the EU has maintained its position as the biggest global donor for official development assistance,” President of the European Council, Christian Friis Bach, told the 37th session of the Joint ACP-EU Council of Ministers meeting here.
He said that despite the crisis Europe would stand by its commitment to increase its collective aid spending to 0.7 per cent of Gross National income (GNI) by 2015.
“We remain firmly committed to the goal of eradicating poverty, as well as to fostering the sustainable economic, social, political and environmental development of our partner countries,” he said, adding “this is particularly important in the framework of the ongoing discussions of the future financing of the ACP-EU cooperation after 2013”.
Bach, addressing the two and a hour long opening ceremony held at the Independence Park on the outskirts of the capital, said that in June last year, the European Commission presented a “communication” regarding the new EU multiannual financial framework, including a proposal to establish an 11th European Development Fund (EDF) to finance ACP-EU development cooperation. He said that discussions regarding the Commission proposals are now underway in the Council.
Last year, the Commission also presented a document titled “Increasing the Impact of EU Development Policy: An Agenda for Change” which Bach said sets out new directions on how to better address new challenges to development cooperation and deliver greater impact and also looking ahead to the United Nations Conference on the Environment (Rio+20) to be held in Brazil later this month.
He said the document also looks at the development agenda beyond 2015 with special attention to fragile ad least developed countries.
“Furthermore, we need to take into account the vulnerability of countries exposed to shocks and crises as well as landlocked and island countries, as underlined among the fundamental principles underpinning the Cotonou Agreement,” he said.
The Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000 puts in place a trade cooperation framework aimed at liberalising trade between both the ACP and EU and also specified that a new World Trade Organization (WTO) compatible regime or an EPA must be agreed by the end of 2007. It has been revised on two occasions.
“The Agenda for change encourages the EU and its partners to base their relations on shared values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law as well as the principles of ownership and of mutual accountability, all principles to which we can all surely subscribe, as enshrined also in the Cotonou Agreement”.
Bach, who is also the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, said that this new approach “opens up new forms of strategic cooperation based on mutual interests and on joint initiatives to address global challenges, going beyond the donor-recipient dynamics”.
Earlier, St. Lucia’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Minister, Alva Baptiste, said that the biggest challenge facing the ACP countries is how to address global marginality in trade, development and international finance.
“I believe that our continuing engagement with Europe within the framework of the Cotonou Agreement is a part and parcel if strengthening our integration into the global economy on the basis of equity and international social justice,” said Baptiste, who is also the President of the ACP Council of Ministers.
He told the opening ceremony that while the ACP countries cannot continue to take its existing relationship with Europe “for granted” it is important to note that “Europe itself is changing both in terms of geopolitical priorities and institutional architecture.
“This makes it all the more pressing that we explore all the possibilities of reinventing the ACP as a group and ensuring a more solid basis for our relationship with the EU. Equally imperative is the need to diversify our international economic relations by exploring South-South linkages with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other emerging economic powers”.
The two-day meeting here is likely to be dominated by the ongoing efforts by the Pacific and African countries to negotiate an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe that both Bach and Baptiste noted in their addresses.
“We are glad to see that regional negotiations are gaining momentum and that both sides are showing commitment and willingness to overcome the outstanding issues in order to conclude the negotiations in the near future,” Bach said.
For his part, Baptiste said that as in all relationships, there will always be one or two sticky areas and that “the slow progress in the finalisation of the EPAs with Africa and the Pacific” is one such area.
“While urging our colleagues to speed up the process towards a final agreement, we appeal to our EU friends to show greater flexibility and understanding. Setting up arbitrary deadlines in my view is not in the best spirit of our partnership,” he added.
Host Prime Minister, Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu, said he was urging the meeting to “strongly take heed of the repeated calls by the Pacific leaders for the (Europe) Commission to ensure that immediate necessary steps are taken to allow for meaningful engagement with the Pacific ACP region, in order to conclude negotiations on a comprehensive EPA by 2012”.
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