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Part II: Who wants what? Breaking down the EU and ACP group’s positions in the latest CPA negotiations

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Part II: Who wants what? Breaking down the EU and ACP group’s positions in the latest CPA negotiations

Asmita Parshotam

14 Sep 2018

6min min read
  • International trade

This month the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group are set to embark on negotiations to decide the framework for a new Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA),  expected to be in place in February 2020. As the process unfolds, it is useful to examine where potential avenues for collaboration between the ACP Group and the EU could lie, but also how potential hurdles and new competing partnerships could derail the agreement.


Read Part I: Understanding the Cotonou Partnership Agreement


Understanding the different negotiating positions: EU vs ACP Group

The ACP Council of Ministers has shown interest in continuing its partnership with the EU based on the following agenda: repositioning the ACP group to be a more effective global player that will respond to the needs of its members; leveraging the principles of complementarity and subsidiarity between the ACP Group, RECs and continental organisations; and sustaining financing of a repositioned ACP group. 

The ACP group has two key requirements that it regards as material to a future CPA: 

(i) It insists on a single agreement with three key pillars: trade, investment & services; development cooperation, science & technology, research & innovation; and political dialogue & advocacy. This is in contrast to the EU position that seeks a framework agreement with three separate regional pacts with Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. In fact, the EU originally wanted to expand the scope of the agreement even further to include Latin America and Asia in a future agreement. However, that idea has since been abandoned. 

(ii) It wants the new agreement to better account for intra-ACP migration, to include the voluntary nature of returns to countries of origin, and to prohibit the use of development assistance as a means of negotiating border controls. Specifically the ACP group wants more emphasis placed on creating the right conditions to promote legal migration and skills-sharing, which can be better utilised in contributing to a positive narrative on migration. 

The EU wishes to engage the ACP group on the following issues:  

(i) Sustainable development, particularly in the context of climate change and agricultural production;

(ii) Protection and explicit prohibition of discrimination based on sexual, ethnic, religious and human rights;

(iii) Strong monitoring mechanism for the political dialogue processes and strengthening of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly; and 

(iv) Improved management of legal migration in order to combat irregular/illegal migration.

With regard to the last point, it is important to note that traditionally, the EU’s engagement with North Africa has formed part of its European Neighbourhood policy. More recently, the EU has voiced its support for a continental partnership that includes North Africa in the upcoming CPA negotiations, although the exact mechanisms for how this would unfold remain unclear. There is hence no doubt that migration will feature prominently in the negotiations because of the perceived increased security threat from Western and Northern Africa as well as increased migration from these regions towards Europe.

Whether the EU’s concerns around security, migration and development will be compatible with the AU and its member states’ vision for African development, and how a future CPA would be integrated into the Continental Free Trade Area are bound to be points of contention.

Finally, the ACP group is perceived as sharing very few commonalities amongst members, and to be mostly concerned about uniting to confront the EU, especially on its development cooperation commitments to the grouping. These concerns come to the fore again following the EU’s proposal in May 2018 to budgetise the European Development Fund (EDF), the primary financing mechanism responsible for developmental assistance to the ACP group, in order to promote enhanced efficiency, coherence and transparency. However, streamlining all EU development funds into an overarching EU budget could also have the unintended consequence of affecting development projects in ACP countries negatively. 

For example civil society representatives have voiced concerns that the European Commission’s proposal will decrease flexibility of spending within the EU and will prioritise European neighbourhood countries at the expense of the ACP group. This concern is reflected in the ACP group’s May 2018 negotiating mandate, which puts forward the continued provision of a dedicated multi-annual financing mechanism to all ACP countries (regardless of income status) and the preservation of flexible and predictable ACP aid programmes through the EDF – although the negotiating mandate does mention the need for increased strengthening of domestic resource mobilisation for development. The ACP group’s desire to continue a traditional aid relationship with the EU raises questions about its continued financial dependence on the EU, which could negatively impact attempts to move the relationship to a more equal footing.

Potential complications: rising China and looming Brexit

The emergence of new powers over recent decades iImpacts on how the EU and its member states deal with the ACP states. 

While Australia and New Zealand are important players in the Pacific region and arguably have closer ties with their Pacific neighbours than Europe does, the BRICS (and in particular China) offer new trade and political partnerships to African countries. How will the upcoming negotiations tackle the rise of new powers such as China, and can the EU adjust its ‘business as usual’ approach to its relations with ACP countries? 

At the recent Beijing Summit of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China renewed a $60 billion financing commitment to Africa, in tandem with a $10 billion development financing fund. Although concessional loans to Africa have decreased from $40 billion in 2015 to $35 billion in 2018, China’s growing willingness to provide developmental assistance to African countries (in particular) reflects the country’s growing prominence on the global stage, and one which brings it into direct competition with the EU.

China’s growing engagement in ACP countries and globally should be viewed against a backdrop of multiple existing policy frameworks, the CPA’s cumbersome operational processes, and the fact that most of the EPAs are yet to be finalised. These constraints cast doubt on how appealing and attractive a future CPA is compared to the new partnerships and FTAs on offer with other partners. Some hold the view that the EU’s negotiation style during the EPAs exacerbated a difficult negotiation process and sowed mistrust between itself and its ACP partners. This does little to further the EU’s relationship with its ACP partners and there is the risk that common interests and trust between the parties will continue to wane. The EU is no longer the only or preferred partner for ACP countries, and the rise of new powers have resulted in diversified trade and investment opportunities for ACP members.

Another conundrum is Britain’s looming exit from the EU, which could have two repercussions: (i) a weakening of the EU development policy mandate in a future CPA and (ii) a new competitor for ACP attention in a post-Brexit reality. ACP membership expanded upon Britain’s accession to the EU and the United Kingdom has been a firm supporter of ACP countries’ developmental needs, a contributor to the EDF and funder of ACP programmes: its EDF contribution currently represents 15% of the overall EDF budget.  

At the same time the EU has shifted its strategic focus to the East and the Mediterranean and has adopted a stronger regional approach in its external relations: while Africa remains of strategic importance because of its proximity to Europe, the Pacific and Caribbean are far less important today, and their privileged status could diminish in light of Britain’s exit from the EU, especially since their links with the EU is based on their historical links with Britain.  The UK is also a key representative of the so-called like-minded group of donors that includes Ireland, the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, which are vocal in their support for EU development policy that prioritises least developed countries, promotes gender mainstreaming, and supports increased ownership by aid recipients. 

When coupled with its financial exit from the EDF, Britain’s exit from the EU could not only weaken this alliance, but result in an overall diminishing influence of this group on the EU’s development policies going forward. In addition, with Brexit negotiations underway and a desire to revive the Commonwealth grouping, the EU could face another competitor for ACP attention as Britain seeks to build its diplomatic relations with its former colonies and garner new allies in its post-EU reality. These new bilateral arrangements would arguably also be simpler to implement and agree to.  

Where to from here? 

There is little doubt that the CPA needs to be a great deal more flexible to respond effectively to the relative ease of political engagement and trade relations offered by alternative partners. Whether EU-ACP relations can adapt to a changing international world order will determine whether the ACP survives the next 20 years or not. While some might argue that the CPA has outlived its purpose, this might be overstated, especially if a future agreement with the ACP group  is able to successfully balance new geopolitical realities and partnerships against measurable and achievable objectives for the ACP-EU relationship. 

Such a relationship would have to account for on-the-ground realities such as an impending Brexit, a rising China and the AU’s push for a continent-to-continent dialogue with the EU. While many ACP members might believe that the ACP group wields more power and has a stronger bargaining position together than as individual regions, a more tailored approach that caters for each region’s respective geopolitical and socio-economic needs could potentially enhance the benefit to all parties. This would be dependent on whether new funding mechanisms are able to strike a balance between the EU’s desire for greater streamlined budgets and financing, and the ACP’s concern over reduced developmental assistance.

Whatever form the new CPA takes, the overriding imperative should be a relationship centred on functionality, practicability, and one in which the ACP, for its own survival, has achieved demonstrable financial and institutional independence to maintain its credibility and negotiating power. 

(Main image: Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama speaks at the 29th ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly in Fiji in 2015.  Flickr/Fijian Government)