Secretary-General Patricia Scotland has reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s support for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, while urging deeper collaboration to boost their trade and development potential.

She was addressing the 37th session of the ACP and European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly on the impact of Brexit on ACP-EU Partnership in Bucharest, Romania. The Assembly aims to promote greater dialogue, cooperation and understanding among ACP and EU countries.

In her opening remarks, Secretary-General Scotland underpinned the importance of the Assembly, which brings together politicians from 79 ACP and 28 EU countries.

“A broad and diverse range of voices, views and vision should continue to be brought together as new partnerships [post-Cotonou Agreement] are forged to deliver peace, prosperity and sustainability for our people and planet,” she said.

The Cotonou Agreement, which frames EU-ACP cooperation on a broad range of issues, is set to expire at the end of 2020. A successor arrangement is currently being negotiated. At the same time, the UK, one of the EU’s largest economies and a key donor, is leaving the EU – a process known as Brexit. The focus of discussions was to better understand the possible disruptions caused by Brexit.

The ACP Group shares 40 members with the Commonwealth and enjoys preferential trade access to the EU market, including the United Kingdom.

Focusing on the possible implications of Brexit, the Secretary-General presented four potential strands of collaboration between the Commonwealth and ACP Group to ensure trade continues to support sustainable development.

The first strand involves continuing Commonwealth engagement with the EU27, two of which are Commonwealth countries: Cyprus and Malta. Both countries have expressed strong interest in working within the EU on behalf of other Commonwealth member countries.

The second strand examines the trade possibilities offered within the context of Brexit once final terms are agreed. The Commonwealth has previously worked with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to examine how Brexit could impact them. This analysis could be extended in collaboration with the ACP Secretariat.

The third strand focuses on leveraging “south-south engagement” to explore a greater interface between the ACP Group and rapidly industrialising Commonwealth countries in Asia.

The final strand deepens the Commonwealth’s existing collaboration with the ACP Group to strengthen the capacity of members so they fully benefit from their relationships with the EU and the UK.

The Secretary-General called for the extension of the Hub and Spokes programme, which comes to an end in April. The Hub and Spokes programme is a joint aid-for-trade initiative of the European Union, ACP Secretariat, the Commonwealth and la Francophonie.

“We have received numerous requests from member countries for the programme to be extended.  However this requires external budgetary support,” she stated.  “Last October, ACP Ministers of Trade further validated the contribution of the programme and supported its continuation.  If it is not extended, there will be a gap in the support provided to ACP countries and regions at a critical time when they are implementing trade agreements and addressing numerous emerging trade issues.”

The Secretary-General also presented a range of initiatives leaders adopted at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London last year, which include:

  • A ‘Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment’ – to support global growth, create employment and promote sustainable development;
  • A ‘Commonwealth Trade Finance Facility’ – a facility to provide Commonwealth small states with up to $100 million of incremental finance to boost trade;
  • A ‘Commonwealth Innovation Hub’ – a digital hub which offers cost-effective and practical ideas to many of the challenges faced by member countries while trying to improve standards of living and achieve sustainable development;
  • The Commonwealth Blue Charter– a joint commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources; and
  • A ‘Commonwealth Cyber Declaration’ – a collective pledge of 53 members to work closely together to evaluate and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks and response mechanisms.
The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly focuses on the unique needs of the ACP Group in discussions on the post-Cotonou agreement to help every member country reach their development goals.