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European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Second Agreement amending the Cotonou Agreement) Order 2011

Volume 731: debated on Monday 17 October 2011

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Union (Definition of Treaties) (Second Agreement amending the Cotonou Agreement) Order 2011.

Relevant document: 28th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, despite significant progress in recent years, considerable challenges remain in the efforts to eradicate global poverty. The European Union—which represents the world’s largest provider of official development assistance, the largest single market and the main trading partner for most developing countries—can potentially make a huge contribution.

The Cotonou agreement is the guiding framework for the EU’s engagement with some 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific—ACP—states. Signed in 2000, it has evolved to reflect the changing relationships between the EU and ACP countries, while retaining its overall objective of poverty eradication, sustainable development and the integration of ACP states into the world economy. Cotonou provides the framework for programming the European Development Fund and channelling money to some of the poorest countries in the world—importantly including countries where UK bilateral programmes are not present and where DfID does not have a presence on the ground.

The Government’s review of multilateral aid judged the EDF to be among the most effective, flexible and poverty-focused of all our multilateral aid instruments. It is closely aligned to UK priorities and provides significant assistance to Commonwealth countries and several of the UK’s overseas territories.

Negotiations on the second revision to the Cotonou agreement were completed in June 2010 in Burkina Faso. All parties have signed the agreement and the changes are being implemented under transitional arrangements until ratification procedures are complete. The revisions aim to improve the implementation of the agreement and to ensure that it reflects changes in the international environment. The revisions fall into three categories—political, trade and development—and I shall highlight several of the important changes.

On political relations, the revised text provides for greater coherence between regional initiatives, such as the Africa-EU strategy and Cotonou. The role of ACP Parliaments and non-state actors has gained enhanced recognition and the African Union is confirmed as a key interlocutor in peace and stability matters. The importance of tackling changing security threats, ranging from piracy to exogenous shocks, is stressed. The provisions concerning political dialogue have been updated with new language on non-discrimination and the inclusion of regional and continental integration, and global and sectoral policies impacting development objectives among the issues that can be discussed. Improved exchange of information between the ACP secretariat and the EU in Article 96 processes, concerned with remedying breaches of Cotonou’s essential elements, are now envisaged.

There are important new references to key global challenges such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, and recognition of the 2008 food crisis through stronger provisions on food security and agriculture. The key role played by fisheries and aquaculture in ACP countries is included, reflecting a desire to enhance coherence between fisheries policies and development.

Cotonou’s trade provisions have been updated to reflect the introduction of economic partnership agreements supporting deeper trade relations between the ACP and the EU, and bringing these into line with the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Language on regional co-operation and integration has been strengthened in recognition of the increased regional differentiation among ACP states.

Changes aimed at improving the programming and implementation of EDF assistance have been included with, for example, the creation of a role for ACP national Parliaments and the introduction of increased flexibility in responding to unforeseen needs and crises.

Her Majesty’s Government fully support all these changes. We firmly believe that they will help to enhance and strengthen the long-standing partnership between the EU and ACP states. I commend the order to the Committee.

My Lords, there is no doubt that the Cotonou agreement is a valuable instrument, aimed at preserving the relevance and character of the partnership between the ACP and EU states. As the Minister has mentioned, the order adapts the agreement to reflect the major changes in international and ACP-EU relationships by further clarifying the political dimension and creating space for a more productive political dialogue and clearer, more effective action. Here, I refer particularly to Article 8.7. The revision seeks to strengthen economic co-operation, regional integration and trade. Particularly important is the move towards extending humanitarian and emergency assistance, and providing new thinking on aid programming and management. This assistance and support is vitally important to many ACP states.

Equally important are the provisions that point to the interdependence between development, poverty reduction and peace and security. We should acknowledge that, increasingly, security threats—both man-made and from natural disasters—must be addressed in a co-ordinated manner, engaging not only the European Union but other regional organisations, including the African Union. With the AU acknowledged, as it is in the order, as a key interlocutor in matters related to peace and security, we can expect increased consistency and convergence of the Cotonou agreement with the strategic Africa-EU partnership. We should look forward to that.

The need for regional co-operation and integration has been recognised in amendments set out in the revised agreement to Articles 11, 23, 23a, 28, 29 and 30. Regional co-operation and integration are key to combating the threats of climate change and food security, and to promoting advancement and sustainability in agriculture and fisheries. I am glad to see that the Government welcome that.

The ACP states face major challenges if they are to meet the millennium development goals, and deal with food security, HIV/AIDS and sustainable agriculture and fisheries. The importance of each of these areas for effective development, growth and poverty reduction is underlined in these amendments, together with the joint approaches over which to co-operate.

The proposed revisions also recognise the impact of the fragility of and lack of security in some states, and the negative effect of that on development. A comprehensive approach, which combines diplomacy, security and development co-operation, encompassing political, developmental, human rights and security dimensions, is enshrined in this second revision of the Cotonou agreement, which can only be welcomed. Therefore, we welcome the revision and the attention that it gives to political dialogue in Article 8 and to climate change, human rights, gender, migration, discrimination and the resolution of violent conflicts. We particularly welcome the emphasis on good governance.

However, the order raises several comments and questions that I should like to put to the Minister. Article 8 refers to dialogue on issues such as “discrimination of any kind”. I understand that this formula was intended to embrace sexual orientation. How will this be pursued? Article 8 rightly emphasises the need for civil society organisations and national Parliaments to be associated with the dialogue. What efforts are being made to bolster the capacity of civil society organisations so that they can make a significant contribution?

The new Article 32a recognises climate change as a serious global and environmental challenge. How will co-operation in that area be taken forward? Are any further initiatives planned?

Article 33 recognises the importance of domestic revenue management and international tax co-operation. Maximising domestic revenue plays an important role in ensuring financial stability and reducing dependence on aid. What steps is DfID taking to support these efforts?

Article 34 refers to the need for ACP countries to participate actively in international trade negotiations. How can we best encourage the ACP countries to push for a successful conclusion to the Doha round?

Finally, Article 36 includes reference to the economic partnership agreements being negotiated between the EU and ACP countries. How will the Government assess their progress and the possible benefits?

My Lords, I should like to raise a couple of issues that have arisen from this. First, fishing has been mentioned a couple of times. One of the worst things to be inflicted on the developing world, particularly littoral states, has been the taking out of their fish stocks through EU agreements. Although this has improved over the years, given the complete lack of coastal protection for these nations and the voracious appetite of certain European fleets for those stocks, I wonder whether the Government will make sure through this agreement that the attempt to improve the situation continues.

Secondly, on aid, I am sure that the Minister will be well aware that there is a major aid effectiveness conference taking place in Busan, in Korea, next month. Are the Government encouraging parliamentarians to be present at the conference? There is a lot to be learnt not only by governments but by parliamentarians. Does she have any expectation for outcomes from that conference?

Lastly, it always seemed to me that the Cotonou agreement and its predecessors were made on a very imperialist-based system in terms of how the EU looks at the rest of the world. There is a division between those nation states who were the French and British empires and those who are not. I would like to think that at some point we can end that discrimination and look at the rest of the world in terms of its needs rather than in its imperial past. Do the Government share that view?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order. I should say at the outset that we support it. The changes and the coherence to be added are welcome; trade arrangements will improve; all of that is positive territory.

The Cotonou agreement as a whole has proved, as it was always intended to, an essential framework, fostering development, co-operation, economic and trade integration and security of political institutions in the ACP countries. It makes complete sense for the EU to have embarked on this course, not only because of our long-term economic and political interests in the ACP countries but also because it reflects the colonial past, the legacy of that past and the obligations that we plainly face in dealing with it.

It is encouraging that when the predecessors of the EU in the European Coal and Steel Community forged those institutions in 1951, many of them were still colonial powers in the very countries in which these arrangements are now in place as a result of the Cotonou agreement. That is positive in many ways.

The continued mutual obligations plainly mean that we continue to have a shared EU-ACP interest in co-operation. In many respects, this has matured from simple co-operation into interdependency. Those interdependencies are created for pragmatic, economic and moral considerations. It is encouraging to be able to talk about the work of the EU in such a positive way; we do not always seem to do that in our House; so I am a little encouraged to have had the opportunity to look at that without people snarling about it.

The renewal of Cotonou comes at a critical juncture. Last year, the World Bank estimated that 64 million people had been pushed into extreme poverty by the financial crisis. Of course, most of those were in countries in the developing world. Noble Lords have already mentioned the impact of climate change and famine, which have had an amplified effect because of the financial challenges in the international community, especially in those countries where we are still slipping backwards on the millennium development goals. Those tasks demand a multifaceted response, and that is what the Cotonou agreement and the changes and revisions now help us to produce.

There is a good deal of independent research in Australian universities and universities across Europe that demonstrates that it is the interpenetration of democracy and institution-building with economic progress which gives economic progress the greatest prospect of success. Much of that research also shows that in those countries where you do not have those institutional and democratic opportunities, economic development is tried to the greatest extent.

It is not a perfect agreement. The point has already been made that, even with the new language on non-discriminatory practices, one area has still not been resolved in any way that I think we would regard as satisfactory in Europe. The democratic, economic and civil rights that have been extended in so many ways seem still to exclude those who are in same-sex relationships. That is a great pity. I know that people in the EU have attempted to see these issues raised in the European Parliament and elsewhere but have not perhaps made the progress with the countries on the other side of the agreement that they would have wished for. I just hope that we will not say, “Well, we are where we are”, but take every opportunity that we have in all the revisions that still lie ahead over the 20 years that the agreement will be in place to see whether greater progress can be made.

The Cotonou agreement has carried forward the EU’s 1992 human rights and democratisation policy. We supported it at that time; we have supported it on all occasions since, from its inauguration through its revisions; and we support it today.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the all points that have been raised and for the general welcome for this move forward. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is quite right that the agreement came about as a result of countries moving into the EU wanting to make sure that what had been part of their former empire was not disadvantaged. So it is a historic agreement looking after those countries and does not necessarily make best sense as we move forward. Looking at the current revisions to the Cotonou agreement, one is struck by the fact that it is moving towards looking at the regional dimension that may be more relevant for some ACP countries in the future. In the mean time, it is extremely important that those countries have access to the EU markets, which has benefited them enormously.

A number of points have been raised in the debate, and I welcome the Committee’s continued interest in the EU’s relationship with ACP countries and the Cotonou agreement. Europe is playing a major role in supporting developing countries, particularly in Africa, to meet the many challenges that they face. The second amendment to the Cotonou agreement is an important development in this regard.

Europe is not only a significant provider of development assistance but also an important global actor. The impact on poor countries of its policies in areas such as trade and the environment can be significant. We will continue to work with the Commission and other EU member states to call for further improvements in the effectiveness, results focus and transparency of EU aid, including the EDF.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, is absolutely right that regional co-operation will be extremely important. It is excellent to see the emphasis being put on the African Union and its further development. He noted the fragility of some of these states; others are less fragile. Therefore, we agree that the emphasis on good governance is extremely important.

The noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord Triesman, asked about discrimination. As we know, discrimination over sexual preferences remains a serious problem in many African states—there have been various pointers towards that recently. In effect, noble Lords are asking why we do not insist on the inclusion of a clause on non-discrimination. Article 8 clearly gives the EU a mandate to raise issues of discrimination of any kind in ACP countries, and the ability to have a dialogue to make progress on all issues of discrimination. It is a very important factor. The Cotonou revision gives the EU that mandate, but we realise that that is not, perhaps, as far as some might wish to go. However, this is a collective agreement, and at least it has that mandate in it. I expect we will find that that is taken further forward in the future.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey mentioned climate change, and its significance. We welcome the stronger statement on the global challenge of climate change in the agreement. The references give the EDF a clearer mandate to spend on these priorities. It is clearly recognised now that the mitigation of climate change—ensuring that we are not making things even worse, because it hits the poorest hardest and first—is extremely important to factor in when we look at development policy. The agreement acknowledges that that has to be integrated with development strategies.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey also emphasised the importance of civil society organisations, as well as governance. The EU certainly attaches great importance to the role of civil society organisations, and provides significant support to help them engage effectively on issues such as governance, democracy and human rights, across the ACP.

Looking at taxation, the importance of domestic revenue management is rightly something people are very concerned about. Many DfID country offices work with partner governments to strengthen tax policy and tax administration. That is certainly seen as important. For example, TradeMark East Africa, funded by DfID, has helped the newly established Burundi Revenue Authority to increase the country’s tax income by 30 per cent—which I am sure would be welcome in this country—from the first quarter of 2010 to the same period in 2011.

Then there is the question about Busan and whether parliamentarians will be present at the conference on aid effectiveness. I know that my noble friend Lord Chidgey is attending.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey is actually going to Busan as a parliamentarian, and I was delighted to hear that.

I know that he is going, and am extremely pleased. There will be other parliamentarians present, and I understand that the Secretary of State for International Development will be there.

Could the Minister clarify an issue regarding Busan? I am delighted that noble Lords are all pleased that I am going to the farthest part of the world.

One of the problems we have faced in attempts to improve aid effectiveness by better scrutiny and better involvement and engagement of parliamentarians in the process of holding their Executives to account, is that while the parliamentarians from the recipient countries are getting quite a lot of help from the OECD, to get as many of them as possible to attend Busan, there is very little support for parliamentarians from the donor countries. I suggest to the Minister—and she may agree—that scrutiny and aid effectiveness is a two-way thing. Not just the recipients but also the donor countries should have a say in how well taxpayers’ money is being used to provide aid to developing countries.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey knows that very well from his experience serving on various boards of AWEPA, which tries to link European parliamentarians with those in Africa. From my own experience it does a very good job. I am glad that my noble friend is going, though not because he will therefore be unable to put questions to me.

I hope that I have covered most issues. I believe my noble friend Lord Teverson wanted some answers on fisheries. Article 23 and new Article 23a recognise the importance of fisheries and agriculture, as I mentioned in my introduction to ACP countries. Depletion of stock is clearly a key issue, and we are hoping that some of these issues will be addressed, presumably at the Busan meeting on aid effectiveness. No, I am told that that is not right. I am afraid that I cannot quite make out what it is that came from the sky, but I should like to write, if necessary, to the noble Lord to clarify where Cotonou stands on this.

I hope that I have covered most issues that noble Lords have raised—and if I have not I will write to them. I conclude by assuring noble Lords that the Government believe that Europe has a significant role to play in the international community’s efforts to eradicate global poverty. The updated Cotonou agreement continues to provide a valuable framework for the EU’s relations with ACP states.

Motion agreed.