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ACP-EEC Ministers meet in Fiji - A transitional Council

The ACP-EEC Council of Ministers which meets immediately after the signing of the new Convention is traditionally a transitional one, experience of the previous Convention having of course provided matter for discussion and compromise during the recently-completed negotiations and there being nothing to say about the new text, the effect of which obviously has not yet been felt. And the 15th Council session held in Suva (Fiji) on 28 and 29 March, with Irish Foreign Minister Sean Calleary and Suriname’s Economic Affairs Minister Wilfred Grep as co-Presidents and Manuel Marin representing the Commission, was a transitional meeting in the true sense of the word.

Most of the items on the agenda had to do with subjects which had been dealt with in detail during the negotiations and undergone no change since. But, as usual, no less than 20 of them including reconstitution of the Lom Stabex resources and the fact that 1980 and 1981 transfers were reduced because of inadequate funds- were up for discussion by the Ministers, as they had been for the past 10 years. And what is maybe another tradition was continued by Wilfred Grep, whose lengthy speech at the opening ceremony contained a detailed catalogue of all the ACP claims, including such matters as debt, reactivation of the international commodity agreements, the Sugar Protocol, Stabex, Sysmin, the Uruguay Round, the situation of ACP nationals living in the Community and so on. Mr Grep also looked at the forthcoming LomV programming, mentioning the “ exchange of views or dialogue... which is the essence of the programming exercise... and should enable the ACP State to decide on its own priorities, stressing economic and social diversification and transformation in the long term - the aim of all the parties involved in programming”.

He went on to say that “ many ACP States are currently embarking on structural adjustment programmes with a view to gearing their economies to long-term development, so, when planning, it is important to avoid sacrificing the focal aim of adjustment to short- and medium-term aims. And here, top priority should go to developing human resources which emphasise the wellbeing of the most vulnerable sections of the population”.

Wilfred Grep was preceded by Sean Calleary, who talked about the general climate of the negotiations and the main advances of the new Convention and reassured the ACPs about the future of ACP-EEC cooperation. He said that he believed that completion of the Single Market was a great opportunity for the Community’s trading partners in the developing world, including the ACP States, because it would be a source of economic growth and new trade prospects. And it would not weaken “ our commitments vis-is our ACP partners “.

The recent change in East-West relations had done nothing to alter the determination of either the Community or its Member States to improve their policies of cooperation with the developing countries - which remained a fundamental part of their external policies “. “ We wanted to state,” he said, “ clearly and unequivocally, that our relations with Eastern and Central Europe and the developing nations were complementary. They were in no way mutually exclusive and they derived from a spirit of solidarity, not competition “.

Removing the barriers

In this, Sean Calleary was responding to worries expressed a few moments earlier by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the Prime Minister of Fiji, who had called on the Community to make sure that the Single Market improved the cooperation established under the four Conventions, criticised the complexity of the Community aid procedures and suggested setting up a joint working party to look into the matter and propose simplifications an idea which Commission Vice-President Manuel Marin first mentioned at the ACP-EEC Joint Committee meeting in Port Moresby a week earlier and had already brought up at the Article 193 Committee the previous day. The rate of disbursement of programmable aid- 19% by the end of LomII was so slow and the ACP requirements were so great that they had to try and locate and remove every barrier to financial and technical cooperation in both ACP administrations and Commission departments. The Commission, Mr Marin said, had already started thinking about this and payments would be computerised by the end of the year. This was a considerable improvement, but there would have to be many more and the joint study which the ACP-EEC Council of Ministers had agreed to launch would no doubt be identifying them. Thus, the Suva meeting will perhaps be remembered a few years hence as the one which triggered the process leading to a noticeable improvement in the rate of disbursement of Community aid.

It was also the meeting which adopted the basic principles for the fisheries sector and agreed on the general rules for EDF-financed works and supplies contracts- a frame of reference on the Council agenda for years.

Lastly, the Council, which will not be meeting again this year, delegated powers to the Committee of Ambassadors to ensure that Namibia can accede to the Convention as soon as it wishes to do so.

The Ambassadors will also have to appoint the heads of the CDI and CTA by 30 June, the Council having been unable to reach a decision on this. The ACPs, who have still not managed to choose between their five present candidates, are claiming the post of Director of the CDI- as is the Community, which has put forward Paul Frix, a Belgian, for the job. Both parties are applying the principle of rotation, which, clearly, does not start at the same time in both cases. The EEC is also linking the appointment to that of the Director of the CTA, which it would be willing to let go to an ACP, provided its own candidate gets the CDI job. The decision will be taken in a month or two.

A.T.