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View the document57th ACP Council of Ministers
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57th ACP Council of Ministers

Mid-term review in perspective

The mood at the 57th ACP Council of Ministers last November in Brussels was unquestionably one of tremendous apprehension for the future, what with the imminence of the conclusion of the GATT negotiations with scarcely any ACP input and the rumours concerning the future of the Lomonvention.

The anxiety over GATT arose from what one minister called 'the banana experience', referring to the success by Latin American banana producers in raising the banana issue in Geneva. A GATT panel, set up at their instigation, had called into question the 'legality' of the Banana Protocol of LomV and another was examining the February 1993 decision of the Council of the European Union on a Single Market banana regime. That regime, it should be recalled, is skewed in favour of ACP producers. The Council found these developments worrying, estimating ACP preferences as a whole in the Union under threat and the Lomonvention itself under attack.

It did not come as a surprise that, despite the tremendous pressure at the talks with many unresolved issues among the major players (the December 15 deadline was only three weeks way), the Council's newly-elected Chairman, Dr Kwesi Botchwey, Ghana's minister of finance, still found it useful to make an urgent appeal to the ACP States to make their presence felt in Geneva before the deadline. Each country, he said, should participate actively in the final round, especially where the meetings affected the Lomonvention, to ensure that their interests were taken into account.

Mid term review of the Convention

Although the Council was under no similar great pressure about the forthcoming review of LomV, the issue provoked no less a passion, and the need to move faster was lost to no one.

Although this was the last ACP Council before the beginning of negotiations in May, the view among ministers was that there was no need for a formal response to the Commission's proposals on the review since the final negotiating mandate of the Commission has not yet been established by the Council of the European Union. Nevertheless, the Commission's paper and the various interpretations given to it in many quarters were constantly referred to during the debate on the midterm review.

The ministers observed that there were areas of common interest between the ACP States and the Commission but that both sides appear to differ on the means of arriving at solutions to the problems that have been identified. Some ministers talked of not accepting direct or indirect conditionality on aid. Others expressed fears about interference with ACP sovereignty and about an end to the equal partnership concept of the Lomonvention.

The occasion of Vice-President Marin's address to the Council offered an opportunity to set the record straight - plainly and frankly. Mr Marin was first welcomed to the Council by Dr Botchwey who told him that the ACPs have some indications of what 'thoughts were going through the minds of the Commission', and that they were concerned that 'our long association with Europe should be safeguarded through these turbulent times'; that meant preserving 'our hardwon concessions and privileges'.

In his speech, Mr Marin reiterated his oft-repeated statement about how the geopolitical and economic situation which governed the old international order has been profoundly upset and why it was necessary to take 'the bull by the horns' and adapt to the new world situation. The Commission's proposals were precisely aimed at doing that to save the Lomonvention. The Commission's attitude, he said, can be summarised like this: 'Things must change in order to continue'.

Mr Marin then outlined briefly the aims of some of the Commission's proposals which are of most concern to the ACPs. He thought there was a need to:

- state in the Convention the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, thus strengthening what is already in the text of LomV on Human Rights and reflecting what is now widely accepted and being put into practice in many ACP States, even in very difficult circumstances;

- fine tune the instruments of dialogue between the ACP States and the European Union through a series of measures, one of which has given rise to scepticism or totally negative reactions in many quarters: namely the one aimed at creating greater flexibility on programming. On this, the Commissioner for Development said he wanted to clarify any misunderstanding: The Commission aces not intend to call into question the basic principle of dialogue between the European Union and the ACP States, but, he continued, 'the current rigidity in the system which sometime leads to the holding up of very important funds and to delays in the implementation of programmes and projects impels us to propose changes in the modality though not in the principle of application'. Conscious of the need to improve the speed in the process of implementation of operations, the Commission, he added, wants to have a certain autonomy with regard to the technical assistance needed in the preparation of projects and programmes. This is neither aimed at removing responsibility from the ACP States nor calling into question their sovereignty in the choice of development strategy and their power of decision, particularly in the crucial phases of identification and management of programmes and projects.

Referring to the main object of the review - the second Financial Protocol, Vice-President Marin intimated that, in preliminary exchanges of opinion between Member States of the Union and the Commission, 'some voices have been raised' to the effect that the level of financial commitment will depend, to a large extent, on progress made in the modernisation of the Convention. He warned that, in this period of economic recession, European public opinion was, more than ever before, paying attention to development funds being used more effectively and in a transparent manner.

Following interventions by Dr Paul Robertson, Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade (for the Caribbean) and Mr Abbey Kafumbe-Mukasa, Uganda's deputy-minister of finance, both articulating regional concerns, Mr Marin re-affirmed the uniqueness of the Lomonvention which he described as the result of 'geopolitical sedimentation'. He, however, pointed out that the ACPs were now in serious competition with other economic poles of the world. It was necessary to fight and to do that 'we have to be more efficient... and give the Lomonvention the highest degree of confidence'. Given the great achievements made in implementation over the past four years and the experience gained, it was necessary to introduce 'what has been happening in reality' into the Convention.

In general, ACP ministers felt reassured by the Commissioner on several points, but considerable scepticism remained over the concept of 'co-management'. Perhaps that will disappear when Mr Marin returns, as he has promised, probably around February, to the ACP Council to present the same 'financial memorandum' es he has sent to Council of the European Union. The memorandum, he said, will enable the ACP States to see for themselves the virtues of the Commission's proposals.

Other matters

The end-of-year ACP Council being traditionally devoted mainly to internal matters, ministers had before them a heavily loaded agenda. Through the able chairmanship of Dr Botchwey, intervention time was considerably reduced and such issues as the budget of the ACP Secretariat and member states' financial contributions were easily disposed of. There were, however, other very important issues in the relations between the ACP States and the European Union which retained the attention of the Council. They included: inevitably bananas, beef, commodities and sugar.

On bananas, a compte-rendu of the developments at GATT and the moves being made by the ministerial committee on bananas was given by the Jamaican representative, Dr Robertson. In it, he revealed that since 1 July 1993, when the Single Market regime took effect, ACP States have had significant losses in export earnings. These were brought about because of severe turbulence in the market created both by the deliberate manipulation of large multinational firms and by the dislocations normally associated with transition from one regime to another. In view of this, the Council urged Member States of the Union to honour what it called 'their common commitment' to the smooth operation of the new banana regime and to ensure that ACP traditional suppliers are not placed in a situation less favourable than previously. It further called on the Union to approve the Commission's proposal for special technical and financial assistance to the ACP banana industry to enable it to restructure and modernise so that it can compete effectively in the Union and on the world market.

On beef, the Burkina Faso representative, Ambassador Salifou Rigobert Kango, drew the attention of the Council to 'dumping' and what he called 'unfair competition' from the European Union in beef production and marketing in the Sahel. Since 1984, he claimed, the EU has been spending huge sums of money subsidising meat exports to West Africa to the extent that locally produced beef, for example, costs CFA 300 per kilo more in Abidjan than beef imported from Europe. He congratulated those NGOs whose pressure on the Union had led to the reduction by 15% of exports of certain categories of meat.

The Council agreed to call on the European Union and 'in particular the Commission to look urgently into appropriate measures to be taken in order to reduce the level of subsidy in beef and veal exported to West Africa' and to request financial and technical assistance to ACP producer states to encourage both local production and the achievement of self-sufficiency in the sector.

In the area of sugar, the Council adopted a resolution which noted that the ACP States' acceptance of the 1992/93 price offer represented a freeze. It would be difficult to accept any price that does not reflect the economic difficulties facing the producing countries. This should be taken into account in fixing the prices for the 1993/94 period. The Council again drew the attention of the Union to the danger of making any offer in GATT that could affect the future implementation of the Sugar Protocol. It urged the Union, on the other hand, to accept as soon as possible Zambia's invitation to visit the country to assess its ability to respect any delivery obligation that would be required of it under the Protocol.

A more cheerful note in an otherwise gloomy Council was struck in a report on commodities presented by the Ugandan representative. Since the Council last met, an International Cocoa Agreement with economic clauses has been signed and an Association of Coffee Producers has come into being in the margin of the Coffee Council. The decision by the newly formed Association to draw up and implement a 20% export retention scheme has already resulted in an improvement of up to 50% in the price of coffee.

The Council welcomed these developments. However, because some of the ACP cocoa producers have either not signed the cocoa agreement or, having signed, have not yet ratified it, the Council urged them to do so before the 28 February 1994 deadline.
It also urged Members States of the Union to do likewise. The Union, it said, should do more to ensure that a new International Coffee Agreement with economic clauses is concluded before the next coffee season.

Augustin OYOWE