Time to reshape and clarify ACP solidarity
What does solidarity between nations meanin the early twenty first century? Arethe values inferred practical or advisable, in a multipolar world in whichself-interest, overlapping relationships and multiple economic and politicalideas compete?
Solidarity suggests a common interest,similar objectives, and a cultural empathy binding people and societiestogether. It is an expression that implies enduring mutual support betweencountries.
For the 79-member African, Caribbean andPacific group of states (the ACP) the question is far from academic as it workstowards finalising a negotiating position with the European Union (EU) on asuccessor to the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, and begins to engage with theUK on Brexit.
The fundamental nature of the issue for thegroup was framed recently by the Chair of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors, LenIshmael, the OECS Ambassador to the EU, when she asked fellow Ambassadors “doespolitical solidarity exist for the ACP which will allow us to face the future,the EU and the world as one?”
Her question goes to the heart of how theACP, as a trans-continental group, relates to the rest of the world.
Does it do so through a post-colonialoptic; do the Caribbean, African and Pacific parts of the ACP have enough incommon practically to strengthen its formal treaty relationship with Europe orto address trade and development challenges of Brexit; and has the organisationthe capacity to become a voice in the global south, as relevant say to China orthe US at a time when international relationships are changing?
A recent ACP working paper makes clear thesocio-economic status of many ACP member countries has changed. While in 2000,using a World Bank measure, there were 40 low income countries (LICs), 30medium income countries (MIC’s) and one high income country (HIC), there arenow 26 LIC’s, 43 MICs and 7 HICs.
It is a transformation that will requirethe ACP Group to re-examine the basis and meaning of solidarity, and todiscover new forms of complementarity. It will require a new approach, to quotethe document, ‘to inspire commonality of interest in attaining a better qualityof life within a unified political framework (to ensure) that no one (is) leftbehind’.
Speaking about this recently in Brussels,in the context of the negotiations for a successor agreement to Cotonou, and inrelation to Brexit, the ACP Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, told me that theissue of solidarity will require careful consideration by ACP member states.
He envisages an approach that involves anew understanding. It will require he says, “the ACP Group being reinvented andrepositioned for a turbulent 21st century”. It will also mean, the SecretaryGeneral observes, member states at very different levels of development, indifferent regions and with different needs, accepting in future the possibilityof significant variations the areas and types of support that might be agreedwith the EU.
He notes too that solidarity will beimportant in relation to Brexit, an issue on which the ACP is intending takinga position in conjunction with the Commonwealth. Although the detail is not yetrefined, and Ambassadors and the Secretariat are unlikely to form a view untilsometime in 2017, Ambassador Gomes identifies a number of components.
Firstly, he says, the ACP will be seekingto ensure the UK’s obligations under the Cotonou Agreement are retained up to2020 when it ends, not least because it is legally binding and is aninter-governmental agreement.
Secondly, the Secretariat has begun adetailed trade analysis, looking by economic cluster at the probable impact onsectors where the ACP will negotiate for continued quota and duty free accessand unchanged non-tariff regulations. He envisages this work will involve thesecretariat and ambassadors working with private sector interests in the UK andin the ACP, and with friends in the UK Parliament. He also believes it will benecessary to form a Commonwealth-ACP alliance to achieve an outcome thatensures that ACP nations are no worse off in the UK market after the Britishgovernment formally negotiates its exit from the EU.
Thirdly, he envisages a dialogue with theUK’s Department for International Development to ensure Britain still intendsto meet its long term commitment to spend the equivalent of 0.7% of GNI onsupporting development, and that ACP nations see no shortfall in the 15% the UKcurrently contributes to the European Development Fund. He also observes thatthe ACP will in parallel need to make the case about the importance of the EU27filling any shortfall in the EDF, and in encouraging smaller EU member statessuch as the Czech Republic to see long-term opportunity in models that linkdevelopment support to investment in areas in which they have interests andexpertise.
And fourthly, and perhaps for the firsttime for the ACP, he believes there is an important role for its Diaspora inthe UK, irrespective of which political party they support. The UK’s largeCaribbean and African community and the very much smaller numbers from thePacific will, he says, be encouraged to engage with their Parliamentaryrepresentatives, the media and others to have them understand the consequencesfor the ACP if tariffs were to be introduced by Britain on their exports.
The UK, he says, has been a leading lightin meeting its obligations for development assistance targets in the EDF andinternationally. For this reason, Ambassador Gomes stresses, the ACP cannotafford to lose such a valuable ally for trade, investment and aid.
To achieve all of this, hebelieves that the ACP must now plan and act based on solidarity and maximumcoherence.
For most in the Caribbean the idea of theACP and ACP solidarity comes from a deep cultural place. It is rightly emotionaland relates to a sense of oneness and common experience, particularly, but notexclusively, with Africa. It runs through slavery and indentureship, and on toindependence, subsequently being made manifest in a willingness to worktogether in bi-regional, multilateral and other negotiations.
As this column pointed out last week,recent developments suggest that there is a new global space and role for theACP, and that it can bring an alternative south-south dimension to the EU27 andthe UK’s international relations. For this to happen, greater clarity about thenature and practice of ACP solidarity is now required.
DavidJessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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