EU, ACP agree radical overhaul of relations

Stabroek News
February 4, 2000

BRUSSELS, (Reuters) - The European Union and 71 developing countries agreed yesterday on a new trade and aid pact which sets the stage for a radical shift in their relations.

Ministers from the Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group finally sealed agreement on a new 20-year treaty after overcoming remaining differences in a marathon two-day negotiating session in Brussels.

The new pact is a far-reaching overhaul of four Lome Conventions, which have governed EU-ACP trade and aid relations for a quarter of a century.

"What we are concluding here is not a routine continuation of what we have had for many years. It is a fundamental change reflecting the way the world is changing, how globalisation is affecting all of us...," European Development Commissioner Poul Nielson told the closing news conference.

John Horne, president of the ACP council and trade minister of Saint Vincent and Grenadines, said that given the commitment to trade liberalisation in the new agreement, the landscape would change significantly. "Over the next few years, things will begin to evolve at an even more rapid pace," he said.

The new pact is expected to be signed on May 31 in Fiji, meaning it will no longer be called the Lome Convention. The rewriting of the agreement was driven by the EU's conviction that the trade privileges it traditionally granted to the ACP states could break World Trade Organisation rules.

The new pact, under negotiation since September 1998, maps out a shift to regional free-trade agreements between the EU and better-off ACP states after an eight-year preparatory period.

Pledge to fight corruption For the first time, under the new accord, EU aid to an ACP country could be suspended in serious cases of corruption.

The final negotiating session was dominated by haggling over the EU's demand that the new agreement include a clause committing ACP countries to take back illegal immigrants to Europe who had come from their territory. The ACP countries agreed to take back their own nationals but objected to a commitment sought by the EU to take back third-country nationals and stateless people who had simply taken a flight from their country. The ACP countries complained this went beyond international law.

A compromise was eventually hammered out under which the EU will negotiate bilateral agreements with individual ACP states setting out arrangements for the readmission of third country nationals and stateless persons.

A second controversial point was over the length of the new agreement, with the ACP countries pushing for it to last 30 years and the EU wanting only 15 years. They eventually settled on 20 years.

The EU refused to change its offer of financial aid to the ACP countries despite their complaints that the five percent increase over the last five-year package did not keep up with inflation.

The EU offered 13.5 billion euros ($13.18 billion) of aid over five years and up to 1.7 billion euros in loans from the European Investment Bank. This will be supplemented by around nine billion euros of aid previously committed but not yet used. ($1=1.024 Euro)