Regionalism can be a building block for a better world. When there is cooperation within and across regions in areas such as trade, investment, the environment, human rights and other fields, the potential exists for positive spillovers at the wider international level. It is in this context that I applaud the announcement on December 3, that negotiators from the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) had concluded negotiations on a deal to replace the current Cotonou Agreement.
The Cotonou Agreement is a broad-based framework which governs the EU’s relationship with 79 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The first Cotonou Agreement was signed in 2001 and it is based on the three pillars of development cooperation, economic and trade cooperation, and the political dimension.
In terms of development cooperation, for the period 2014-2020, the EU programmed €30.5 billion in development funding for ACP countries. This figure represented a substantial increase compared to the €22.7 billion committed by the EU for the period 2008-2013.
On trade and investment, the EU would have concluded Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with several of the ACP countries, including an EPA covering the Caribbean members of the ACP which was signed in 2008. With respect to the political dimension, the EU and ACP countries had committed to regular, comprehensive and balanced dialogue on specific political issues of mutual concern.
Under the new deal which will govern the relationship between the EU and ACP countries over the next two decades, the pillars of cooperation have been expanded to include six broad areas: human rights, democracy and governance; security; human and social development; environmental sustainability and climate change; sustainable growth; and migration and mobility.
For Caribbean countries in particular, the elements of the new agreement which address sustainability are extremely important. This is because of the existential threat posed by climate change and extreme weather events, as well as the dire need for Caribbean economies to be transformed in a manner which yields both qualitative and quantitative dividends for its peoples.
Even on democracy, at a time when there is clear evidence of democratic backsliding in many countries, including in places that have been held up as models of democracy for many decades, perhaps the EU and the ACP countries can be norm setters in this area. Of course, such an outcome would require all parties to cooperate in strengthening democratic institutions and processes.
The time has also come for the Caribbean to forge more beneficial ties with African countries. Too often, the image that is conjured of Africa is one of poverty and war. However, we are not often told that the 21st century Africa is also a place teeming with opportunities. As The Brookings Institution has noted, the business potential of the African continent is tremendous in sectors such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture and information and communications. These are the kinds of sectors in which the Caribbean and Africa can cooperate and build real and lasting linkages.
Closer relations with Africa could also have the added benefit of reducing the Caribbean’s reliance on Europe and North America in the areas of trade and investment. Furthermore, the Caribbean cannot assume that its traditional developed country partners will continue to be reliable diplomatic and development allies. Therefore, a stronger relationship with Africa is also about enhancing the Caribbean’s strategic position in the world.
Finally, I will return to where I started. Global cooperation does not take place in a vacuum and global problems are not solved by accident. Cooperation and problem solving are creatures of habit and regional mechanisms can serve as the platforms through which cooperation and problem solving can be exported to the wider global community.