IN RECENT TIMES, much attention has been focused on the impact the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) will have on Barbados and other small states in the Caribbean. Other international countries, including other small nations, have also been faced with such considerations.
There has arguably been an absence of a similar focus on an issue that affects the region, and its partners in Africa and the Pacific, in ways that some might say are even more far reaching.
I am talking about the regime under which Europe and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States group relate.
While these partners signed an economic partnership agreement in late 2008, the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (also known as the Cotonou Agreement) is more comprehensive. It covers trade, development cooperation and political dialogue until 2020.
This means that there is a relatively short period for Barbados and countries in the ACP-EU partnership to work out a new deal.
Writing in Guyana’s Stabroek News recently, Dr Rudy Insanally, who was Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana between 2001 and 2008, said: “CARICOM/CARIFORUM-EU cooperation has proved invaluable in creating a mutually satisfactory relationship between the two regions”.
“The relationship should therefore be maintained and further strengthened after the Cotonou Agreement comes to an end in 2020. It is not too early to consider, after reviewing past experience, what can be done to remedy any perceived deficiencies, and to improve performance within the agreed framework,” he added.
“Necessary consultations should involve not only governments but also representatives of relevant organisations and civil society as a whole. Special attention should be given to the problem of implementation and accountability as well as to the challenges which integration now faces.”
ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Gomes said this year marked 42 years of trade, economic and political cooperation between Europe and the ACP Group. He said “great strides have been made by which an accumulation of knowledge, experience and institutional innovation are brought to bear in the fight for a world free of poverty and engaged in sustainable development for all”.
However, Gomes added that there was a need for a new focus. He said the ACP “has identified mutually reinforcing strategic pillars in which trade, investment, services and industrialisation as one pillar is linked to development cooperation, not only for financial resources but also technology, research and innovation”.
Speaking at a celebration of European Day last year, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said Barbados was prepared to work with Europe on developing areas including renewable energy and climate change.
However, he noted that over the years the island, like its Caribbean neighbours, benefited from Europe’s partnership in key industries, especially sugar and rum.
“Barbados treasures its close relations with the European Union. Our intertwined history makes it easy for us to cooperate on a variety of areas and we have been so doing. The European Union has aided the development of Barbados and the region through a number of measures,” Stuart said.
“Cooperation with the European Union through four Lomé Conventions, and now the Cotonou and Revised Agreements, has brought lasting benefit to Barbados and the region.”
Giving some background on the issue in a recent working paper, economics lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus Dr Troy Lorde, and Antonio Alleyne of Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, China, said “the Cotonou Agreement, as well as its predecessors (the various Lomé Conventions), was designed to offer ACP countries special access to EU markets in order to aid in their development”.
“However, over the past few years there was political pressure from some non-ACP countries for an end to these discriminatory trading practices,” they said.
“The World Trade Organisation deemed the Cotonou Agreement incompatible with the rules of free trade, thereby necessitating the signing of EPAs between the EU and the ACP countries to replace the section of the Cotonou Convention that dealt with trade, by the end of 2007. These new agreements are designed to facilitate greater reciprocity between the ACP and their European trading partners.”
In a recent working paper published by the European Centre for Development Policy Management, Errol Humphrey, who is a former Barbados ambassador for the European Union and is an international trade and development consultant, said the Brexit and wider partnership issues involving Europe were intertwined.
“Arguably, with the Cotonou Agreement scheduled to expire in 2020, the real issue to be considered relates more to the future of the ACP-EU partnership and not just the status of Caribbean countries,” he said.
“Although it is unlikely that 2020 will see the end of the special ACP-EU relationship, the nature of that cooperation and how its benefits might best be maximised is an important unknown that should be factored into the Caribbean’s and ACP’s reflections on possible post-Brexit and post-2020 developments.”
Humphrey also warned that “given that the Cotonou Agreement is expected to expire in 2020 . . . , and taking into consideration the changing geopolitical landscape partly inspired by Brexit, the Caribbean needs to be aware of the possibility that in the long term the EU-[Latin American and the Caribbean] could replace ACP-EU as the primary framework for the Caribbean’s interface with the EU.”
“This is the type of issue on which the Caribbean should reflect and develop a regional position before British-EU exit negotiations have been completed and definitely before 2020,” he said.