ACP Trade Ministers reaffirm strong commitment to multilateral system

ACP Trade Ministers reaffirm strong commitment to multilateral system
Photo credit: World Trade Organisation

23 Oct 2017

Ministers and senior officials responsible for Trade from 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries reaffirmed their strong and resounding commitment to the multilateral trading system, at the conclusion of the 20th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee meeting held in Brussels on 18-19 October.

The meeting, chaired by the Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana Hon. Carl B. Greenidge focussed on enhancing intra-ACP trade, including through a joint approach to commodities and agricultural value chains, as well as examining trade issues between the ACP and EU countries. This was in preparation for joint meetings with the European Commission on 20 October, covering Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), trade regime issues, capacity building, and non-cooperative tax jurisdictions amongst others.

Ministers also discussed critical elements related to the 11th Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be held 10-13 December in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The MC11 meeting will bring together more than 160 countries to continue multilateral negotiations on rules for international trade amongst members.

“The rules-based multilateral system must be sustained as it promotes a fairer trading system that increases opportunities for developing countries, including those in the ACP Group of States,” said ACP Secretary General H.E. Dr. Patrick Gomes. “However, this system is under threat today, and the changing dynamics in the WTO negotiations are undoubtedly making the achievement of development-oriented results difficult.”

Ministers heard presentations from the Director General of the WTO, Mr. Roberto Azevedo, the Chair of the WTO Ministerial Conference, Amb. Susana Malcorra of Argentina, as well as the Coordinator of the ACP Group in Geneva, Amb. John Ronald Deep Ford of Guyana. They reported on preparations for MC11, including challenges in terms of the level of ambition and nature of expected results.

During the meeting, ACP ministers urged concrete outcomes at the forthcoming MC11 meeting in Buenos Aires, to send a strong message that the multilateral system works. At the same time, the imperative for outcomes at MC11 be aligned with the globally endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 14.6 on fisheries to protect the world fishing stocks, and SDG 2 to end hunger by advancing food security through public stockholding.

Ministers called for inclusiveness, consensus and transparency in all WTO decision-making processes, as well as careful framing of any reform evaluation of the WTO to ensure that the interests of all countries are protected. A robust MC11 work programme must be formulated, characterised by strong commitment to development, while recognising differences between developed, developing and least developed countries.

The meeting highlighted the need to more proactively recognise and implement rules that enable recovery and development of small vulnerable economies, which are especially exposed to external shocks, including natural disasters. Representatives also committed to increased integration, unity and solidarity of the ACP Group of States, including taking more joint ACP approaches to trade and development.

These elements are captured in a declaration by the ministers on the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, where Guyana will act as the spokesperson for the ACP Group.

Joint Statement of the ACP-EC Joint Ministerial Trade Committee

on the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference

During the Joint Ministerial Trade Committee held on 20 October 2017, the ACP and the EU discussed preparations for the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference to be held in Buenos Aires on 10-13 December 2017.

The ACP and the EU exchanged views regarding the current situation in the WTO and reaffirmed the crucial role of the rules-based multilateral trading system, and the importance of enhancing trade for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth and development. They emphasised the contribution of trade to development, and acknowledged the importance of development support to building trade capacity.

The ACP and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to work together with all Members of the WTO to make the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference a success with ambitious and concrete results. They further agreed on the objective of ensuring that the WTO functions as an efficient and effective negotiating forum covering issues of interest to its Members and agreed to work together to ensure that this was reflected in the results of the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference, with development at the centre of negotiating outcomes.

Statement by ACP Secretary General, Dr. Patrick I. Gomes, at the 20th Meeting of the ACP Ministerial Trade Committee, Brussels

It gives me great pleasure to warmly welcome you to ACP House, your house, for the two meetings that are ahead of us – namely the 20th ACP Ministerial Trade Committee and the 15th Joint ACP-EU Ministerial Trade Committee.

It is very encouraging that many Ministers and very senior officials responsible for trade issues, in ACP Member States and regional secretariats, are here with us this afternoon. We will draw on your collective wisdom and guide our deliberations accordingly.

Your presence here despite your respective busy schedules, and for some of you, arduous travel connections, is a welcome demonstration of the seriousness and importance that your countries attach to ACP issues in general, and those critical trade issues for the Global South as a whole. Be assured of the continuing and unwavering commitment of the Secretariat, to support and serve you.

The purpose of your meeting here today and tomorrow is to prepare for the ACP-EU Joint Ministerial Trade Committee (JMTC), which by statute must meet at least once a year.

The JMTC which, as an apex organ within the Cotonou Partnership Agreement, is duly mandated to address any trade related issue of concern or interest to the ACP States, including the ongoing monitoring of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). The JMTC must rigorously address our trade interests, and firmly pursue means to resolve those issues that continue to pose nagging problems.

The 15th Meeting of the JMTC, on Friday morning, will consider issues related to ACP-EU trade relations. These include, as you well know, negotiations and implementation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), as well as other pertinent issues you shall identify. Implementation of EPAs continues to give rise to protracted challenges. Expected benefits are proving delusive. We hope open and frank dialogue can result in mutual understanding, and assist in surmounting the challenges faced. Hence importance of the JMTC cannot be over-emphasised.

The Senior Trade Officials from capitals, representatives of ACP regional organizations and a selected Group of ACP Geneva Ambassadors met here for the last two days to prepare for today’s meeting. Extensive technical material and pertinent recommendations have been prepared for consideration of our Ministers and to engage our European Partners.

The over-riding task for economic growth and development of our states is heavily dependent upon their enhanced, effective and more qualitative integration into the global trading system. We continue to face inherent structural and infrastructural constraints, and simultaneously, the development promise and prospective trade opportunities of the WTO Doha Round are fraught with uncertainties, while EPA implementations continue to stumble.

This situation requires ACP States to continually innovate and to adapt strategies, policies and measures to capture a larger share of global trade. Basically, our aim is to foster sustained and sustainable economic growth and development, promote employment creation and direct this to ending poverty (SDG 1).

Opportunities are to be seized, arising from the dynamism of economic growth in emerging economies and also through South-South trade. We are trying to grasp these. I wish briefly to illustrate some concrete measures that the ACP Secretariat has been pursuing.

An intra-ACP trade framework has been under consideration by ACP States on various occasions. However, doubts have persisted about how far the conclusion of a free trade agreement would actually succeed in promoting intra-ACP trade, given existing structural and competitiveness constraints, as well the fact that all ACP States have already entered into a range of bilateral, regional and multilateral free trade or economic integration agreements and/or are in various stages of negotiating these. They continue to consume our very limited human and financial resources. Hence we want to adopt a step-wise approach.

In this regard, the ACP requested UNCTAD to assist in carrying out a “Study on the establishment of an intra-ACP framework for enhancement of trade and economic cooperation” and related opportunities. This has started with a mapping of intra-ACP trade opportunities.

The UNCTAD representatives presented the outcome of their work to Senior Officials. Although further work is required, the Senior Officials and Secretariat are recommending the setting up of an ACP-wide trade portal for access and use by governments, business and civil society and other stakeholders. The trade portal will cover manufactures, commodities, services, investment and economic good practices across the South.

These outcomes are related to the ACP-EU Post 2020 agreement, in what our Council of Ministers has carved out under Pillar 1 – a major shift from trade or trade cooperation, to address Trade, Investment, Industrialization and Services in an integrated and interrelated whole. That is our Pillar 1 as we look to Post-2020 negotiations.

The role of the ACP will be catalytic and agenda setting - to facilitate and support the greater integration of our countries in the framework of their various regional processes, such as the Continental Free Trade agreement (CFTA) in Africa, or the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in the Caribbean, to cite only these two.

In the area of Economic Partnership Agreements, the Senior Officials received reports from the regional EPA configurations on the progress made in the EPA process. I note some progress but challenges remain.

A common concern from the reports is the need to intensify exchange of experiences among our regions and ensure optimum cross fertilisation between regions.

We need to respond to the legitimate fears which are founded on unquestionable desire to preserve proper policy space to enable better strategic responses to the aspirations of their people in the regions, especially those most in need.

A key challenge continues to be the undermining of cohesive integration arising from the existence of different trade regimes within the same regional economic community. Therefore, there is need to conduct concrete analysis of the result, effect and impact of EPAs, on trade and regional integration as well as on its consequences to the development of ACP States. Senior Officials have also recommended that this type of study be continued.

This is necessary as we look to the future of the ACP-EU partnership, particularly also because BREXIT would have an impact on EPAs for many countries, as the United Kingdom is a significant market, for several of our Member States.

The other main purpose of your meeting is to address the issues before the multilateral trading system of the World Trade Organization, and to adopt a Declaration on the Eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference that will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 10-13 December this year.

Preparations for the Conference face difficulties related to the level of ambition and nature on the results. Knowing the role that the ACP plays in WTO, we have the responsibility to ensure that once again, we fully and vigorously take part in the process and voice the concerns of our Member States.

You more than I are knowledgeable of the changing dynamics in the WTO negotiations that undoubtedly are making the achievement of development-oriented results very difficult. We currently stand on shifting sand, to say the least. If the truth be told, recalling where we started from in Doha and where we are now in 2017, we are so far off course one could be forgiven for thinking that our compass & GPS may have been or is being hacked!!... Is it from Washington, Moscow or Beijing??

Even the language of the negotiations is shifting: from the days of abounding hope for success when we talked about “low-hanging fruit” and “early harvests,” we are now into leaner times of “small packages”, “deliverables” and “outcomes.” Even the Ministerial Declarations are getting leaner and shorter, not because Members have reached agreement on the outstanding issues but because reaching agreement is becoming harder. In the WTO it seems the passage of time hardens positions, making agreement almost impossible.

Recent pronouncements by some major players and the realignments of international trade partnerships are causing consternation within the ACP Group. The risk of marginalization is real and growing.

The ACP Group supports multilateralism that has a space on the table for small, weak and vulnerable economies, as opposed to protectionism which operates to the detriment of development for economically fragile countries.

The ACP group needs to persistently pursue commitment, reaffirmation and agreement to multilateral institutions and negotiations. That is the only way that ACP States can be equitably integrated into the multilateral trading system.

The ACP and the EU intend to send a clear message of solidarity in support of multilateralism. In this regard, the JMTC will be invited to issue an appropriate message at the end of its meeting on Friday.

The other subject areas that your meeting will cover include the implementation of a new approach to commodities, ACP-EU trade regime issues such as the state of play on the BREXIT process, non-tariff measures, commodities and fisheries, EU negotiations with third parties at a bilateral level and mini-lateral level on Trade in Services (TiSA). The agenda also includes the European Commission proposal, to be looked at very carefully, on opening negotiations on a multilateral Investment Court.

On all these topics, the Senior Officials report is rich with recommendations and ministers are invited to critically examine and give direction with appropriate conclusions.

Now to the task must be pursued with vigour and clarity of purpose. Let us draw on the comparative advantage of our collective wisdom and powerful political commitment to secure our common interests and serve all developing countries.

I thank you very much.