Do you play patience?
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CTA. 2003. Do you play patience?. Spore 104. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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For years a driving force in ACP trade negotiations, he is strongly driven, and quite a driver. Shortly after wowing the seminar's opening session, he sat with Paul Osborn of The Negotiator, the seminar newspaper, and talked frankly about unity, strength
The elections in Jamaica a few weeks previously hadn't worked out too well, he was now an ex-MP. Losing your seat is part of the process, he said. "My long absences on foreign trade issues had taken their toll. It's difficult to have a rural constituency with this sort of work." He'd been using vivid language about the EU that morning, about it not being as altruistic as it might wish to be seen, and about ACP issues being subsumed by greater issues. Whence, from where, did he draw his enduring commitment to the cause when the playing field was obviously not very level at all? "It's part of the reality, you recognise it, it's in the back of your mind. I don't complain, I try to understand and internalise it. It's a fact of life. But I'm not resigned to it because I do believe that it can change." Our lack of clarity His face is calm, but you can see the energy racing, focused, within. Everything has a precise meaning. "When I say they're not altruistic, in fact I appreciate much of what the EU has done. Paradoxically, to have concluded the Cotonou Agreement in the light of all the other EU objectives was itself a response by the EU to address some legitimate concerns. At the heart of it, I believe the EU wants it. There are a number of constraints - some are on our side, in terms of capacity to implement, and sometimes in our lack of clarity and coherence. I do not ascribe any ill will to the EU, in fact there's quite a bit of good will. But it does have its own agenda and objectives. What is absolutely necessary is that we sit down together at the highest level and look at each others' agenda. You've got to understand it, otherwise what comes out instead is confusion or worse, anger, and anger has no place in these discussions." A global asset That's a bit smooth maybe? Doesn't he really think that the ACP-EU relationship is like the dying embers of the old colonial fire? "Well, whether it's dying embers or an opportunity for renewal, is one way or the other. We have over 25 years of what I consider to be a global asset. What will we do with that? In the WTO there is an excellent opportunity for cooperation with the EU. The EU has spent quite a lot of time, effort and resources in building this up at a time when it itself recognises the value of unity. That's why my point to Lamy (the EU Trade Commissioner) and all the others is that it is silly to do anything that will undermine ACP unity. You need ACP strength; you can't have a fragmented ACP in your negotiations for regional economic partnerships (REPAs) and at the same time ask for coordination at the WTO level. You have to sit down in honest dialogue and consultation, rather than dictate, and you work it through as honest partners. Before the ink was dry on Cotonou, they came with the EBA [which would allow 'everything but arms' to be imported into Europe at no duty from the least-developed countries]. I negotiated that and immediately called for an impact assessment. We felt that the EU wanted to be seen, in the run up to Seattle, to be doing something for LDCs. I said, fine, but if you want to do something, do something substantial, not another gimmick." So had the EU, in going for the EBA initiative and returning to a preferential agenda, been listening to the wrong voices within Europe? Was there a moment when he'd thought 'if only they had done something differently'? "If the effect of good intentions is to kill me, then I'm dead" He corrects again with precision. "I don't know that there was a moment in time, there were things done then and even now that can be done. It's two years since we signed Cotonou. We have a negotiating time-line and we need some critical resources to build our capacity. There's a saying that the way to Hell is paved with good intentions, but even if [some EU positions] are well-intended yet - and this is the sum and substance of my point - the effect is to kill me, then I don't give a rat's arm; I'm dead, I'm dying." Throwing away 25 years With this bunch of carrots called REPAs, is the ACP in danger of fragmenting? After all, he had said "unity is vital". But do the unity sums add up? "United doesn't mean ignoring national needs; what is critical is to build up the capacity to make the correct arrangements. We need all-ACP teams. It would be foolhardy to fractionalise into small regional units where the required capacities are just non-existent. That was a question in the seminar. In francophone Africa they regard ACP as a transfer mechanism - a sad thing to say. If that is all it represents to you, then no doubt the francophones are rushing to sign a REPA when they are unprepared, they don't know what they are likely to get, and they will risk putting asunder the notion of ACP unity." A case of 'fools rush in'? Those eyes twinkle; even he can't prevent that. The diplomat's words take a tad longer to grasp: "I wish that countries would understand that ACP-EU relations are a global asset, painstakingly developed over 25 years. At a time when the world is moving towards globalisation, why would you go in the other direction?" [This is an abridged version of an interview first published in The Negotiatior on 28 November 2002. www.cta.int/seminar2002] The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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