IT has been said on numerous occasions in the past that the relationship which Europe has forged with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states ought to be used as a model by other developed countries to assist small developing nations.
Through the Lome and Cotonou Agreements starting in 1975 and in 2000, they allowed for economic assistance, market access for tropical goods reaching Europe, and economic and project financing. The European Union (EU) has delivered a programme that has assisted with the development of these former European colonies. In late 2007 the Caribbean and Europe concluded another phase in their ties with an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The CARIFORUM -EU EPA has thrown up new relations based on an eventual reciprocity, after a lengthy phase-in period for the Caribbean to get accustomed to dealing with what lies ahead.
Come 2020 – February to be exact – the Cotonou Agreement will come to an end and in its place will be some kind of successor arrangement. That new arrangement will however be framed through negotiations between the two sides and, depending on what they have come up with and agreed to, the Caribbean in particular will be on its own.
EU official Luis Maia, speaking at a forum earlier this month in Barbados, said that the new partnership will be framed by the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Roadmaps (such as the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the European Consensus on Development) and will serve as a basis for creating alliances in the international arena.
He termed this a powerful tool to jointly tackle global challenges – from fighting poverty and inequality to peace and security, from human rights and fundamental freedoms to democratic principles and the rule of law. As was pointed out at the forum, there is a need for a bold approach to the negotiations on both sides. While the EU’s ambition is to preserve key components of the Cotonou Agreement, Europe sees the upcoming negotiations as an opportunity to break from the past, paving the way for new dynamics and cooperation going beyond the traditional development dimension.
There are many among us who have lamented the fact that while ACP countries have benefited tremendously from the generous support from Europe, they have not gone far enough in repositioning their economies to take advantage of the global economic and political changes since 1980, when the Cold War ended.
Also since the EPA was signed in Barbados in October 2008, there has been no large scale move by Caribbean producers and service providers in taking full advantage of what the agreement offers. Only the Dominican Republic has done so to some extent, but even far beyond what Caribbean countries have done.
The end of Cotonou is upon us – less than two years way – and we have to be prepared. The world has long moved away from preferences and other support mechanisms that the Caribbean had embraced since the 1970s when the Lome started. All indications would suggest that the countries of the Caribbean have to get their integration process working so as to be able to confront what lies ahead. As a negotiating group, CARICOM has to be stronger and determine what it wants and what is best for the region.