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Interview with Patrick Gomes (ACP Group of States): “Diversifying partnerships is key for our future” 0

In February 2020, the Cotonou Agreement will expire and a new relationship has to be designed, taking into account the achievements and shortcomings of the agreement. The EU and the ACP Group of States have started informal discussion on the future of this unique agreement. During the last UN General Assembly in New York, we met the Secretary General of the ACP Secretariat, Patrick Gomes, who shared his views in this interview focused on the main ACP’s challenges.

Secretary-General, what was your agenda at this year’s UN General Assembly?

We were looking at three areas. The first was to participate in the high-level meeting on addressing large movements of migrants and refugees. Our second area was to look at finalising arrangements for closer collaboration between the ACP, acting as a hub of South-South and triangular cooperation, and the UNDP office for South-South cooperation: we have signed a memorandum of understanding with them to collaborate closely on various project activities. The third area was to meet with as many heads [of state and government] as possible and some of our foreign ministers to discuss our forthcoming program, which is related to the major council meeting that will be held in November. We expect this event will confirm the position of the ACP group of States as we look to the 21st century.

Migration is currently a top priority on the EU agenda. What is the ACP Secretariat’s approach on this issue?

We have an ongoing dialogue on migration development with the European Commission that is part of our Cotonou Agreement. In that dialogue, we looked at technical and political matters related to re-admission policies and the granting of visas. The question of remittances is also very significant for development – how do we assist nationals who are working in the developed world, who want to send substantial amounts of their financing home for development purposes? As you know there is a great deal of loss due to transaction charges. For the Caribbean there’s a bigger problem, as the United States requires that only certain banks are allowed to be involved in remittance transactions. It’s what they call ‘correspondent banking arrangements’, and they must certify which banks in the Caribbean are eligible to receive money coming from Caribbean nationals working in the US. It’s a very discriminatory issue, which the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda addressed in the high-level meeting on the right to development. It’s also a very important issue of the United States’ extraterritorial policies.

How do you see the position of the European Union on this specific issue?

We have not engaged with the EU on this specific issue as yet. With regards to the cost of remittances, we are trying to see how we can look at banking arrangements for Diaspora funds. Some countries like Cape Verde have already begun to look at ways they can establish their own facility in the United States where there are Cape Verdean nationals working, so the transactions don’t have to go through the established financial agencies that impose high service charges of 12%, 15% or even 18% per transaction. We are trying to reach a common position so that the Diaspora financial instruments will have special tax arrangements by being categorised as development finance, not a public transaction.

Why? What’s the purpose of that?                                               

These contributions complement development assistance. We want to encourage people to make investments and help their families. What countries are doing now [is] providing official development assistance at the target that was set way back in 2005 – 0.7% of gross national income. While a few European countries have been able to reach that level, overall the European Union is still below 0.7%. Development finance must have other avenues and that is why the remittances must be treated in that way, so that they can act as a complement.

Recently the European Commission announced a new External Investment Plan for Africa and neighbouring countries. What is your response to that plan?

I think the approach is very positive: it is what they are doing more and more with trust funds. It’s also good because it will complement the European Development Fund, which is what we, the ACP, manage. Just as in the EDF, focus areas for the External Investment Plan can be identified beforehand, looking at the priorities set by the region or the countries. Rather than having a great proliferation of small projects, we need projects that are more cohesive and directed at significant issues that would have a bigger impact, such as the infrastructure sector. You cannot talk about your agricultural production going into the global value chain when you can’t even move your products to the ports. All of that institutional infrastructure must be addressed in a major way and it is very costly.

Is there any risk to duplicate projects funded with the EDF, with other financial instruments such as the new EU external investment plan?

Yes, that risk exists, that is why we would like the ACP to be invited to the discussion and hear what is envisaged by such investments. It comes as a surprise that others are having background discussions and is the reason why our development finance committee will make an even greater effort to learn about other sources of development finance.

What is the impact of such an initiative on the post-Cotonou negotiations with the EU?

It is a signal to some extent that the post-Cotonou negotiations will have to broaden relationships with the regions and must now raise its level of engagement in political decision-making. We want the ACP Secretariat to not be so restricted to technical matters, so that we can discuss a lot more of the policy issues that are on the table, and then leave the technical details to working groups. That is why the broad overarching framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is even more important than this single EU initiative. We went to sit down and had planned the meeting at the end of March to look at how we enhance regional cooperation around the SDGs, which are of interest to the ECOWAS,, the SADC, and the COMESA. We also began that discussion with the African Union, which has the 2063 Agenda but which is broken up into 10-year periods. We have certainly identified some SGDs we’ll continue to work on, like food security and poverty in general, but now we are focusing on SDG 14 on harnessing the ocean and looking at the blue economy and marine resources. It’s logical for the Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

We are also debating how to manage such resources efficiently and how they are being used. Such discussion began with UNCTAD14, last July in Kenya. We had a special side event on harnessing the blue economy for sustainable development. The research on marine areas also looks at fishing agreements, the Fiji and the Papua New Guinea situation with the EPA, which is being held up because of the understanding that it should be based around the management system: who should be there fishing along with what is to be observed in the regulations on irregular and unreported fishing. So, a lot can be done around the oceans and we are going to work on that as a high priority area.

How are informal discussions going with the European Commission, related to the Post-Cotonou Agreement?

We began very informal discussions because, as you know, we have had two strategies on the matter. The first discussion was the working group on future perspectives attended by the ACP ambassadors who came to speak about three key areas. First, we must consolidate the achievements in the decision-making co-management of the EDF. Second, we must broaden intra-ACP cooperation. Third, we want to diversify our engagements, which is why I spoke so much about South-South cooperation.

So the ACP looks after other partnerships?

Diversifying our partnerships is key. For example, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazil to exchange areas of training and capacity building and part of the work they are doing in countries like Mozambique. These will be identified as case studies in South-South cooperation. We are also working in Mozambique with Japan. We have no formal link as yet with Japan, but we do with Japanese development cooperation since they are participating in the South-South cooperation. Small steps will be taken with India, Brazil and South Africa, who have a Forum, which we can complement on specific thematic areas in the EDF.

The Eminent Persons Group, as set up by my predecessor Dr Chambas, will indicate how to look at the post-Cotonou negotiations. They have held deliberations and issued an important report that was presented to the summit in Papua New Guinea, but the reaction was that there had not been enough time to look into all aspects of it. So, we asked the regions to meet and discuss it. The Pacific region did and came up with some thematic areas. Two parts in the EPG report are important: the first is looking at what should be the thematic areas, the pillars, and interestingly, they speak of a development cooperation pillar in the EPG linked with technology. Second, we want the political dialogue to not only address questions of good governance and human rights or be used as it was in line with article 96, when violations or sanctions apply. We want the political dialogue to be broader and crosscutting amid issues that, for instance, would relate to illicit financial flows – where are those funds going if not to the European banks where they are supposed to go?

Are you expecting such dialogue to take place at a global level?

Yes, absolutely. Our working group on future perspective looks into how we can transform the ACP into a global player. That’s why we are right here now, where there are global interactions. We have been active at the global level in dealing with trade matters (WTO), the trade facilitation agreement, the question of special differential treatment and enhancing LCDs’ access to WTO conditions. But we want to move this dialogue towards some specific areas we think the international community should be encouraged to address, such as international financial flows and taxation issues. We also believe that another important area will be underlined when we get comments from the regions on the EPG report. So, we are asking the CARICOM group, their council ministers, to look at the Eminent Persons Group report and come up with which of the recommendations from the EPG they accept and think we should incorporate into the new vision of the ACP – revisited, reinvigorated, repositioned to look at the 21st century in a new way. We will have input from the Caribbean, the Pacific and the African Union. During an extraordinary AU summit, taking place in Togo on 14 October, President Obasanjo will make a presentation of the EPG report, following which we will collect all comments and include them into a manifesto of the ACP for the 21st century.

What is the complementarity between the African Union and the ACP?

The entire area of peace comes through the EDF. We think that peace and security will be an area which will be better handled by the African Union. But there are other areas we should work together on, such as maritime and air transport security. We want to transfer such issues to an ACP-AU joint commission, where political positions can be taken. We took a political position with the EU when it looked at the Post-2015 Development Agenda. We did not take a position with the EU in Addis Ababa, because there are too many differences about taxes and the law. We want to know what areas we can agree on with the African Union and the regions. I envisage that we will have to revisit the Threshold Agreement, while maintaining some core principles, such as poverty eradication, which must be linked to inequality and economic justice. Why are countries and policies being handled, as I referred earlier on, by bigger countries dictating what should be done? This is the issue with correspondent banking.

Can you update us about the reception of the EPA report in East Africa?

Unfortunately, Kenya is the only middle income country in the East African community, the others are LDCs. Even though there was an understanding on principles, substantial trade and goals, LDCs withdrew from signing and ratifying the agreement, because they said they had nothing to gain from it as LDCs. Kenya has now been able to say that they have signed the EPA report and have made a presentation to the European Parliament, and the Parliament and the ACP are trying to persuade the Commission to allow some flexibility.

What kind of flexibility?

EPAs have been unfortunate, as they are too heavily linked with satisfying WTO regulations, rather than seeing trade as an instrument of development. It’s about how the movements of good and services are able to address poverty and poverty eradication. We went to redefine poverty so we understand that eradication can’t be based on giving aid: structural policies are necessary.

Is it the issue you discussed with the Director General of EuropeAid, Stefano Manservisi?

Yes, Manservisi came and made a presentation. As you know, the Commission has done its evaluation of the Cotonou agreement: it has strengths and weaknesses. One of the weaknesses has been political dialogue.

Yet, it was argued that ACP heads of government should engage in deeper participation…

That’s right, and I’ll tell you why. Historically, if you look at the Threshold Agreement and even at the signing of Lomé and Cotonou, participation has always been taking place at the Council of Ministers level, which is why we have not had heads of government as engaged as they should be. The WTO does not have heads, it doesn’t have summits, it instead has ministerial conferences, it’s a trade matter. Now we need to have our heads of government much more involved in political engagement. That is why the summit is important. The President of Senegal champions it, as does the former President of Benin. More and more heads of government are saying they are committed to the EPC report. We started this with the Sipopo Declaration in 2012, having heads of government meet there, and we continued with it in Papua New Guinea, but there is still room for improvement.

How do you see the future of an EU-ACP joint institution such as the CTA?

The CTA, which has been extremely successful, is a very important joint institution to look at for information as well as lessons learnt – it will play a significant role in South-South cooperation. We are going to go to a South-South Development EXPO discussion in Dubai at the end of October and leverage the CTA’s experience. We would like to see CTA grow, maybe replacing the CDE as a platform for the private sector, fostering policies that have a cumulative impact and are aligned with the SDGs.

By Joshua Massarenti 

Translated by ISO Translation

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi