ACP wants continued strong relations with UK after Brexit
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CMC) – Secretary General of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Dr Patrick I Gomes says while the grouping is supportive of a strong Europe, it has no desire of neglecting its relationship with the United Kingdom following its decision to leave the EU.
Speaking at the launch of the book Brexit – Securing ACP Economic Interests, in London last week, the Guyanese-born diplomat noted that eight months have passed since the British voted in a referendum to leave the European Union.
“A lot has since been written and debated on the impact and implications of the vote. This is yet another occasion to join the discourse on BREXIT and to acknowledge and appreciate the work done by the Ramphal Institute by this seminal study,” he said.
Gomes said there was no doubt that the referendum result sent shock waves through many capitals and reverberated in global markets.
“In ACP markets, investors were disturbed because many economies were already suffering from low commodity prices in the face of a sluggish global demand. There were fears that trade and investment would be woefully affected most by Brexit.”
Gomes said for the 79-member ACP Group, it is important for there to be a strong Europe leading and playing an influential role at the global level, particularly now that one of the previous global leading nations has decided to focus efforts and attention to domestic issues.
“A strong Europe that remains a major export market and source of investment for many countries in our Group. A strong Europe is what we want to engage with post-2020 when the Cotonou Agreement comes to an end. But this does not mean we will neglect our relations with the United Kingdom. It is too important a country to ignore,” Gomes said.
In his address, Gomes said that publication provides pertinent insights and additional intellectual ammunition for ACP countries and their allies to continue their preparation to secure the trade and economic interests of the ACP Group of States.
“This is fundamental for the reality of trade to be a powerful instrument in the eradication of poverty. This is a battle and ongoing struggle at the heart of the ACP’s raison dÃ©tre.”
He said the study looked at some key questions on how to secure ACP economic interests after Brexit, “what about the European Union, which is legally bound to honour its commitments to the ACP under the Cotonou Agreement”.
“Would the European Union share among its EU Member States the financial obligation that the UK had committed to carry under the Cotonou Agreement or we would see a reduction of EDF resources by a corresponding amount?
“After Brexit, what would be the United Kingdom’s preferred options as far as partnerships are concerned – would they be bilateral, through the Commonwealth, the African Union or the existing regional organisations or a combination of these arrangements? In other words, how best should the ACP prepare to engage with the UK post-Brexit?”
Gomes said that these questions arose in light of ACP States’ desire to safeguard the market access, trade and investment, as well as development financing benefits that are currently accruing from the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union.
“Any dilution of those benefits would significantly tilt the balance of rights and obligations under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and could seriously hamper future relations between the ACP and the European Union, in terms of security of benefits,” he added.
But he told the ceremony, organised by the University of London and the ACP, that some of the fears previously expounded have been assuaged by recent policy pronouncements by the British Government.
Gomes said that the ACP ministers of trade at their meeting in Brussels, last December, held an exchange of views on Brexit with the British diplomat Angus Lapsley “who set a reassuring tone by stating that the starting assumption is to try to maintain as much continuity as possible”.
Gomes said that the promise of continuity was confirmed in the statement of Prime Minister Theresa May, when she presented her Government’s White Paper on January 17, with a 12-point plan for exiting the European Union.
He noted that in the area of trade, the statement noted that Britain would be seeking to “achieve continuity in our trade and investment relationships with third countries, including those covered by existing EU free trade agreements or EU preferential agreements”.
Gomes said that this sets the right tone for future engagement adding “although the devil is in the detail, the prime minister’s statement is reassuring and gives a good indication of what is in store for in the ACP Group”.
Gomes said that regarding development financing, the UK contributes about 17 per cent of the European Development Fund, and has met its 0.7 per cent Gross National Income target for the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and also supports bilateral programmes, such as Trade out Poverty for Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Securing ACP economic interest means ensuring that UK contributions in the development financing are not reduced but increased or at least maintained,” Gomes said, adding that he welcomed “what is contained in the subsequent first UK’s Economic Development Strategy issued by the Department for International Development focusing on prosperity, poverty and meeting global challenges”.
Gomes said that the ACP Group looks forward to engaging with the UK on how best to ensure that the trade and economic interests are truly secured.