84. Groups unite to strengthen regional ties

The Star
23 September 2019
Dr Oluwaseun Tella

In a bid to contribute to region-building efforts in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific; revisit the Georgetown Agreement of 1975; and examine the current trade negotiations between the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group (ACP) and the European Union (EU), the ACP Group secretariat in Brussels; the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Georgetown, Guyana; and the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI), recently held a two-day High-Level Consultation in Barbados, titled “Revisiting the Georgetown Agreement: Comparative Region-Building in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific”.

The 1975 Georgetown Agreement established the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States. The Group comprises the 78 African (48), Caribbean (15), and Pacific (15) countries which are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement, an accord between the ACP and the European Union signed in 2000. South Africa joined the ACP in 1997, while Cuba joined a year later. The Group’s four key objectives are: to promote and strengthen unity and solidarity among its members; to coordinate the activities of the Group in the implementation of the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement; to consolidate, strengthen, and maintain peace and stability to improve the welfare of the Group’s populations; and to promote trade, development cooperation, and regional integration within and between the ACP. The Cotonou accord of 2000 which provides the overarching framework for the EU’s relations with the ACP, ends in February 2020. This has led to multiple rounds of negotiations in Brussels between the ACP and the EU to agree a new framework.

Region-building and regional integration have the potential to enhance inclusive sustainable economic growth, as well as development, security, and democratic governance across the ACP. In a quest to build institutional frameworks to promote Pan-Africanism, African leaders established regional bodies such as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, the East African Community (EAC) in 1967, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1992, and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) in 1994. Similarly, Caribbean and Pacific governments have embraced the concept of regionalism to combat their socio-economic challenges, resulting in the creation of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in 1971, and CARICOM in 1973.

The African Union (AU) – successor to the OAU – is the premier African continental organisation. Comprising 55 members with more than one billion people, the AU has established several institutional and normative frameworks, particularly in the areas of conflict resolution and democracy-promotion. These include the 2002 African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), and the 2011 African Governance Architecture (AGA). The AU has conducted peacekeeping in Burundi, Darfur, and Somalia, while democracy-promotion found practical expression in the sanctions imposed on Togo (2005), Mali (2012), and Egypt (2013), following unconstitutional changes of government in these countries. However, at around 14%, intra-regional trade is unimpressive.

ECOWAS has 15 members with a population of about 340 million. The sub-regional body has engaged in democracy-promotion in Togo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Gambia. However, Nigeria’s dominance (accounting for about 70% of West Africa’s economy) is often criticised by its neighbours. Despite the country’s large economy, levels of intra-regional trade remain low, accounting for 10.6% of total trade.

The Tripartite agreement between COMESA, SADC, and the EAC covers 27 countries. The Tripartite area accounts for 60% of Africa’s economy and population. The second summit of Tripartite leaders in South Africa’s industrial heartland of Johannesburg in 2011 started negotiations on the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), and proposed the adoption of a developmental approach to regional integration based on three key pillars: industrial development; infrastructure development; and market integration. The third summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2015, launched the TFTA.

The Caribbean Community is a regional organisation consisting of 15 member states and five associate members, headquartered in Georgetown. Regional integration in CARICOM has four key pillars: economic integration; human and social development; foreign policy coordination; and societal cooperation. The community has promoted foreign policy coordination through its role in global negotiations, including the 2014 United Nations (UN) Arms Trade Treaty and the 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The Pacific Islands Forum has 18 members with a population of 37 million. In 2017, its leaders endorsed the “Blue Pacific” identity as a collective effort to achieve their developmental goals. These revolve around ocean geography and resources. The geo-strategic competition and cooperation that play out in the Indo-Pacific have, however, weakened the PIF. These stem from a perceived lack of consultation on the part of the Quad countries – Australia, Japan, India, and the United States (US) – who are the major players behind the anti-China Indo-Pacific Strategy. These countries often do not consult small Pacific Island states.

The overarching goal of a post-Cotonou agreement is to foster sustainable development among ACP states in tandem with the provisions of Agenda 2030 on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thus, some of the key recommendations of the recent Barbados seminar include: strengthening South-South cooperation to enhance intra-ACP trade; sharing knowledge of “best practices” of governance and development across the group’s three regions; and becoming less dependent on resource-based exports.

Dr Oluwaseun Tella is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC), University of Johannesburg.