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Joint Committee in Port Moresby - First meeting in the Pacific

The ACP-EEC Joint Assembly held its first meeting since the signing of LomV in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, in the far reaches of the Pacific, on 19 and 20 March, at the time of two major political events, the proclamation of Namibian independence and East Germany’s first free elections for 45 years. So the recent changes in Southern Africa- the liberation of Nelson Mandela and the legalisation of the ANC- and the upheavals in Eastern Europe set the tone, attracting unanimous approval, with the occasional tinge of fear.

It was clear from the word go. In turn, the two Presidents, Leo Tindemans (Belgium) and Mamadou Diop (Senegal), welcomed the historic changes in Eastern Europe. Mamadou Diop also expressed legitimate concern about the European Community looking to these countries and perhaps sacrificing the achievements of exemplary cooperation with its partners in the South, but his European opposite number assured him that, although history was certainly redrawing the lines laid down by World War II and attracting the Community’s attention in this, it
was perfectly normal. “I am sure that our ACP partners understand it perfectly well. Our future is at stake. But is that to say we shall attach less importance to our relations with the ACPs? I should like to tell our partners very candidly that this is not the case- and I see that the means of ACP-EEC cooperation have increased greatly “.

There was no difference of opinion on Southern Africa, on which the two co-Presidents share the same joy and optimism... tempered with prudence. They were elated at Namibia’s independence following elections monitored by the mission which they led in November (Leo Tindemans hoped Namibian MPs will attend the next meeting of the Assembly) and they are cautiously optimistic about the changes in South Africa. The freeing of Nelson Mandela- -at Mamadou Diop’s suggestion, this got a standing ovation- and the unbanning of the ANC were positive signs, clearly, but apartheid was still there, preventing the emergence of a democratic, non-racist South Africa. This was why the two co-Presidents and later almost all the members who spoke in the debate on Southern Africa were to ask for the international pressure which had helped trigger these beginnings of change to be maintained.

The Pacific

Not only were the two up-to-theminute topics of Southern Africa and Eastern Europe discussed. Another matter, of geographical concern this time, the special situation of the Pacific countries, was also on the agenda and it was something the Joint Assembly, holding the first Pacific session in its existence, could scarcely avoid. And it was the focus of the opening speech of PNG’s Prime Minister Rabble Namaliu, the man who signed LomII on behalf of the ACP Group in 1985.

In the Pacific, Mr Namaliu said, countries are all fighting for survival. It is a fight to stop the region becoming the scene of rivalry between the great powers, to stop the environment suffering from nuclear pollution, to stop the pillage of their waters and to minimalise the greenhouse effect.

And during the general debate which followed, three Ministers presented the Pacific case, each one dealing with a specific aspect. Berenado Vunibobo, Fiji’s trade and commerce Minister, gave an overall picture of the region, Edmund Andersen, the Solomon Islands’ Minister of Trade and Primary Industry, spoke of fisheries problems and Michael Somare, PNG’s Foreign Minister, discussed environmental protection. A number of key ideas emerged from this detailed presentation, first of all regional cooperation, which was vital to this set of small countries with their limited natural resources, poor soil and frequent hurricane damage. So all the barriers to the rapid implementation of Convention-financed regional projects had to be identified and overcome. Another major factor was the need to protect the region’s marine resources by banning fishing with drift nets. There is an agreement to this effect, but the three countries which use the method the most (Japan, Taiwan and South Korea) have still to ratify it. Lastly, there is the idea of making the Pacific a nuclear-free zone, but the treaty adopted in the Cook Islands in 1985 has not yet been ratified by any of the major signatories other than the USSR and China. The Pacific ACPs objected to the French nuclear testing in the region and said they were concerned about their part of the ocean being chosen as the ideal place for storing nuclear waste because of the isolation and low population density.

Commission Vice-President Manuel Marin, who is responsible for Development and Fisheries, said that the prospects of greater EEC-Pacific cooperation were very promising under LomV. There had been delays in implementing the previous Convention and the level of commitment was lower than for other regions, in particular because of the difficulty of organising special import programmes, with the distance of the Pacific making for extremely expensive imports from Europe. Mr Marin said he was ready to suggest changing the rule whereby regional projects had to purchase supplies in Europe and that he thought regional cooperation had a great future in the Pacific. It was vital, he thought, in the prevention of natural disasters and the greenhouse effect, in the protection of marine resources, in tourist development and in transport and communications. The European Development Commissioner also suggested that Europe and the countries of the region should get together and harmonise their positions in matters such as the storage of toxic waste and fishing with drift nets- both subjects of discussion in other international fore.

Mr Torres Couto thought that consultation was not enough. The Community had to ensure that the ban on exporting nuclear waste to the Pacific was scrupulously respected. Mr Muntingh condemned France’s nuclear testing at Mururoa, denounced Japan and Korea for their use of “death” nets and further condemned Japan for its exploitation of the region’s forests when its own trees were “ virtually sacred “.

A severe summing-up

In spite of references current affairs and considerations of geography, tradition was respected at Port Moresby and, as usual, the Joint Assembly discussed a general report on the functioning of cooperation under the Convention. The report was presented by Hartmut Perschau and the aim was to suggest one or two guidelines within the framework of LomV to improve the economic and social situation of the ACP States.

The ACPs are now faced with economic and financial difficulties, political ones too, and there is no short-term solution, said the report in its severe assessment of the situation. “ The problems are of such magnitude that new, and above all, global approaches have to be defined in our development policies. The present crisis”, it maintains, “is essentially one of macro-economic imbalances, with plummeting raw material prices, a balance of payments deficit, dwindling exports, budget deficits, declining export earnings, heavier debts and debt servicing obligations, an expanding population, inflation, inadequate industrialisation and investment, a capital drain, poor training opportunities, soaring unemployment, greater poverty among the rural population, a rural exodus, expanding slum development, a deteriorating environment, a shortage of energy products and so on. The imbalance is further aggravated by non-economic factors such as armed conflict, increasing numbers of refugees, natural disasters, famine, epidemics and disease (the rapid spread of AIDS for example), all practical signs of the loss of new productive resources to the development process”.

The main aim of the new Convention, the spokesman held, had to be to do away with famine, poverty and, most important, social injustice. He suggested doing this by developing the policy dialogue between the ACPs and the Community- the only way, to his mind, of creating the conditions to make a success of the transfer of resources and, therefore, of improving the situation of the majority of the poor populations who were the priority target of LomV. This idea of policy dialogue of Edgard Pisani, the Development Commissioner at the time of the LomII negotiations, was, Mr Perschau thought, of vital importance. But, he warned, it was only meaningful if all the partners were bound to it. The ACPs’ drive to reorganise was an integral part of it and so was the Community’s assurance about the transfer of resources the elimination of barriers to trade and the solving of the debt problem.

On the subject of implementation of the Convention, the spokesman said that jointly-decided programmes had been done away with because there was no dialogue. Some projects, he said, were studied by consultants at great expense and then abandoned. He asked the Commission to cooperate with the World Bank and the IMF on structural adjustment programmes to prevent the poor being the victims of social injustice once more. Lastly, in the matter of the debt, he said he was pleased that LomV dealt with the question for the first time, before suggesting that, although the EEC and the Member States could indeed help find answers, the ACPs also had a part to play by bringing in better budget policies, cutting back on spending and calling a halt to the drain of mainly national but also foreign capital.

Mr Perschau ended by saying that “ we have to agree to criticise each other if we are to avoid the same catastrophic balance sheet at the end of LomV”. He addressed four questions to the Commission:

1. How much of the 6th EDF has been paid over so far? How do commitments relate to payments? Is it true that only 15 or 20 % of payments have been able to be made and, if so, is this due to the cumbersome nature of EDF procedures or to divergences on project implementation between the Commission and the ACP States concerned?

2. How far has LomII project aid been transformed into aid for imports or support for the balance of payments?

3. What percentage of total project costs is the remuneration of consultants?

4. Is it true that better disbursements come up against problems of implementation in the ACPs because of their economic and administrative structures?

If it is difficult to find new projects that are valid, it would perhaps be more sensible to concentrate on schemes being run at the moment, with particular attention to improving quality, protecting the environment and ensuring training, advanced training and health facilities.

Straight talking

Manuel Marin gave a straight answer on all these points, but first of all, he tried to set the discussions in their proper context. The ACPs are in a bad state, it is true, but LomV is not the answer to all their problems, he said’ so all those who “jump from the Convention to all development issues such as the raw materials slump and the debt crisis” should know that such things are beyond the remit of LomLomhe said, is a sound agreement for what it is meant to do - consolidate the achievements of the past, that is to say. Those who think the financial allocation is too small, he said, should realise that this is the highest amount of any multilateral organisation ever, with a 26 % increase in real terms and 40 % in face value over the previous Convention. In comparison, World Bank credits have increased by 16% in face value and 0 % in real terms. And there is no more concessional aid than Lomither, 93 % of which is in the form of grants. However, it must also be realised that the Convention is a subsidiary thing, only an addition to other sources, and that aid from the private sector is vital and that it is the ACPs’ job to create the sort of conditions which will attract the private investors who would otherwise be looking to Eastern Europe.

Manuel Marin answered Mr Perschau’s questions, saying that 73 % of LomII had been committed and that 19% of programmable aid had actually been disbursed by the end of the Convention. He also proposed that a Joint Assembly working party investigate the causes of this non-utilisation of credits in both the ACP administrations and the Commission departments. By the end of February, he said, 35 special import programmes had been run and this was 10-12% of the Convention, but the Commission did not impose these programmes, as the ACPs in fact requested them as an alternative to projects. Technical assistance, it is true, was an important part of Community projects, because it represented 15% of the volume of credits. On the last question, Commissioner Marin said that, although he agreed that the Commission was partly to blame for slow payments, the ACP authorities also had something to do with it. He announced that a study was being run to suggest ways of recycling or re-utilising Community credits (“ but the writing off of debts is a magic expression which should be forgotten”) and he ended optimistically, saying that the Convention made it possible to face up to the future. “ The future belongs to the Third World if the Third World wants”, he said, attracting applause, the proof that his direct approach was well received overall.

Ideological discussion

Then, rather as it had done last year in Bridgetown (Barbados) and Versailles (France), the Joint Assembly spent some time following up the Wurtz Report on the consequences of the Single Market on the ACP economies (see The Courier No 114, pp. 2-5). The final version of this report and the proposal for a resolution which goes with it may have won ACP unanimity, but there were considerable reservations from the Europeans. Some of them- Messrs Price, Turner and Verhagen, for example blamed Mr Wurtz, who is a Communist, for impregnating his writing with his own ideology and wanted him to produce a more balanced version. Others, Wynn and Telkamper for example, stressed that this criticism came a little late in the day, as all political colours were represented on the working party and complaints should have been made earlier on. Those who complained about his warnings on the Single Market of 1992 on the grounds that they were tantamount to an attack on this policy were told that the ACPs’ economies had deteriorated to the point where any further imbalance would be fatal. He had looked for anything that would further complicate the ACPs’ task in the Single Market, highlighting whatever measures would protect what they had already gained and tackle the root cause of their poverty. As Mr Wurtz saw it, they could afford no more mistakes and it was better to be over-cautious than over-optimistic.

Manuel Marin said he was put off by the overdose of ideology in the discussion of Europe in 1992. As he saw it the Single Market would be neither heaven nor hell. It did involve some risk for the ACPs (“ but what progress doesn’t?”)? but there was still time to make the changes which would mean that such risk could be avoided.

When Mr Wurtz proved willing to compromise on the points at issue, his report was adopted.

Risk

The Joint Assembly then heard the two Co-Presidents of the ACP-EEC Council of Ministers, Sean Calleary (Ireland) and Wilfred Grep (Suriname), talk about the features of the new Convention. And then came question time eight to the Council (including what would happen if the European Parliament refused to ratify LomV?. - Well, it wouldn’t take effect, Calleary said) and 33 to the Commission, ranging from Stabex transfers to PNG to the Commission’s recruitment of social experts, the problem of the refugees of Irian Jaya (PNG) and the locust control campaign in West Africa.

Mr Nordmann then outlined where the commission of enquiry on racism and xenophobia had got since it started work in 1989 (a report is due to be published this year). He said Europe coud not refuse to give guarantees to ACP nationals living in the Community when it was calling upon these countries to respect human rights in the Convention. He thought the Single Market held risks here. Raymond Chasle, the Mauritian Ambassador to the EEC, deplored recent events which had heightened the ACPs’ feeling of insecurity and Leo Tindemans said he had noticed a resurgence of racialism and xenophobia. As he saw it, the biggest danger was the rampant racialism which poisoned people’s minds and led to explosions like the recent one in Florence. The answer was education, culture. control of migration and a solution to the refugee problem.

Mrs Valent, the Italian MP (who is of Somali origin) called for the setting up of a working party on this, because, she said, everyone was concerned. Mr Melandri thought that the present rural exodus was the result of the fact that Europe’s wealth is the Third World’s poverty. There was no point in a defensive policy, he thought, because cultural differences were an opportunity for the host countries. Mr Martinez (National Front) did not agree, calling for the “ right to identity “ for his people. And Colette Flesch urged the meeting to react by taking up a political position. Human rights could not be oneway traffic and if Europe objected to the ACPs violating them, it had to agree to reciprocal considerations.

The Joint Assembly then voted on the resolutions - 29 of them on subjects as varied as the implementation of Lomn West Africa and the Pacific, implementation of the African Human Rights charter, the protection of tropical rain forests and the situation of coffee producers.

One of the resolutions invited Nelson Mandela to speak to the (next) Joint Assembly in Rome, scheduled for 24-28 September 1990, or to the (following) one in Kampala, Uganda, in January 1991.

A.T.