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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

ACP-EU updates: ACP unity, custom tariffs, and the Singapore Paradox

If Secretary General Dr Ibn Chambas has always taken advantage to voice the issue along his mandate, the question of ACP unity has prompted much discussion in the past week. Ambassadors from Samoa and Jamaica to the EU stressed that unity and innovation among ACP members is needed. They warned that the 79-member Group will have to review both its relevance to its constituencies, and its value-added and strategic importance as a partner of the EU in the future. “The ACP-EU partnership is now at a crossroad. What is more worrying for the [ACP] Group, are the subtle and less overt signals emanating from the EU regarding their thinking for the future - signs of disengagement”, underlined the newly appointed Samoan ambassador to the EU, Dr. Fatumanava Pao Luteru.  Days after the aforementioned talks , Ronald Sanders, an international consultant and former diplomat in the Caribbean region, expressed his concerns about the ACP in an opinion article. While aware of the strong unity demonstrated by the members between 1975 and 2000 “when they found enough strength in their unity to secure advantageous aid, trade and investment treaties with the EU”, the author stated that the ACP members “allowed the EU to fragment them in the negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)”, which has led, in his opinion, to an unfair arrangement. He also added that unsatisfactory EPAs are not only the fault of the EU and the ACP group “has also failed to collaborate effectively in analysing the weaknesses and strengths of their member states and regions, and to provide collectively their own pool of experts to overcome hurdles and take advantage of such opportunities and funding as the EPAs provide”. He points out that should the ACP Secretariat in Brussels be properly supported by ACP member governments, “it could strengthen bargaining for countries and regions and help unlock barriers to EU markets and funding”. A number of ACP-related issues are set to be discussed this week. The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly is taking place in Horsens and will focus on agricultural product prices, the social and environmental consequences of mining as well as climate change and energy. MEPs will discuss the consequences of the instability in Libya and the crisis in  Sahel region on ACP members.

Trade issues have also been a hot topic this week. According to an article by Rob Davies, the South-African Minister of Trade and Industry, the country will seek to boost trade relations with rapidly-growing developing nations. His statement does not come as a surprise, however, as the minister reminded parliamentarians that South Africa's trade with BRICS members grew by 29 percent last year, hailing the expansion as a boom.
Likewise, an expected decrease in custom  tariffs for exporters from Central America ( namely, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica) are matter of concern for African banana producers. Indeed, Apibana (African Pineapples and Bananas Association), warns of a drop of African exports to Europe by 15%, while seeing an increase of  17% of Central American exports.
The banana sector now enjoys free trade with Europe but this may not be renewed in 2014, if the well-known and often discussed requirements by the European Commission are not met.  According to  Freshplaza, Apibana thinks that the EU should sign this agreement again at any cost to allow the sector to retain its privileged position.
On a positive note,  CARICOM member states will be the beneficiaries of funding from the EU. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) will enter into a contribution agreement with the EU,  for a €3.5 million EPA Standby Facility.  Although the implementation period of the Facility will be thirty-six months, the two parties may agree to an extension.
These funds are to be used by the beneficiary countries for national EPA implementation units; for administrative, technical and other support for national focal points and for technical assistance assignments to advise on or to assist in taking advantage of opportunities under EPA.  
To conclude, CTA Brussels conducted an interview with Lino Briguglio, Director of the Islands and Small States Institute (University of Malta), and discussed the so-called "Singapore Paradox". Furthermore, Mr. Briguglio, a professor in Economics, lists the advantages and disadvantages of the EPAs for the SIDS, as these pertain to the ACP group.