Implications of the EC orientation for Post Cotonou negotiations for ACP agro-food sectors


The EC consensus on development document recognizes the role of agricultures in eradicating poverty and the importance of smallholder farmers within agriculture in developing countries. It commits the EU to developing value chains which benefit the poor. The EC staff working document in contrast clearly articulates EU security, migration and economic preoccupations in redefining the EU’s relationship with ACP countries. The EC communication on a renewed EU-ACP partnership for its part recognizes the need for responsible investment in agro-food sector development in Africa.

 A key consideration moving forward will be how broader EU interests and ACP agro-food sector interests will be reconciled in practice. This will need to be carefully monitored, both during the negotiations and beyond.

On the 22nd November the EC posted a number of documents with implications for future ACP-EU cooperation relations. How differences in priorities and emphasis set out in these documents are resolved in practice, will carry important implications for ACP agro-food sector development.

The EC communication on ‘a new European Consensus on Development’ had the most to say explicitly on agricultural development issues. Paragraph 44 reiterated the EU’s commitment to sustainable agricultural development as a ‘key driver  for poverty eradication’. It argued ‘Investments in sustainable agriculture are needed to diversify production systems, prevent malnutrition and generate increases in productivity and jobs, without harming the environment.’ In Africa, the private sector was seen as having  a major role to play in this regard.  It was maintained that within EU development policy, ‘smallholder farmers and the poor remain of central importance, with a particular focus on youth integration and women’s empowerment’. It committed the EU and its member states to developing ‘agricultural value chains which benefit the poor and encourage agro-industry to generate jobs and added value’. (1)

This latter commitment would appear entirely consistent with the aspirations of many ACP governments for the structural transformation of their agro-food sectors, so that more value and more employment is generated locally in the production, processing, packaging and distribution of value added agro-food products to national , regional and international markets.

The emphasis in the second of these documents, the Commission staff working document on ‘A renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific’, had a somewhat different focus, with a  strong emphasis on EU interest in the future structure of the relationship with ACP countries.  Particular importance was attached to EU security and migration concerns, with it being maintained the dynamics in many ACP countries pose ‘serious challenges’ to EU security and ‘limit opportunities for further prosperity’. These EU security and migration concerns appear to be the dominant influence in defining the EC’s approach to future EU-ACP cooperation.

These EU security and migration concerns could have a major influence on how future development cooperation resources are deployed, particularly in the context of EC proposals to expand the ACP Group to bring in 5 North African countries and all remaining LDCs and SIDS. This could come to significantly impact on EU development assistance spending on agricultural development in existing ACP countries.  (2)

In terms of economic and trade relations, the EC is looking to forge ‘the best type of relationship  after 2020 that allows the EU to effectively pursue its interests in an ever-competitive global arena’. The EC’s focus is on the identification of the opportunities arising in a changing world ‘to accelerate economic growth for the EU’. The EC argues ‘the EU has every interest in making sure that its companies benefit from growth in ACP countries and are able to access new markets’. (2)

In terms of the role of the private sector, the EC staff working document notes how the EU’s strategy for its own development is based on developing close relationships with the business community and relying on private sector investments in many areas. The EC highlights the need for a ‘holistic approach to the private sector’. In this context, for the EC, the new agreement with the ACP should ‘set the right conditions for increased EU investment, particularly by small and medium-sized enterprises’. (2)

Against this background the view is expressed that ‘advanced ACP economies have a role to play as strategic partners to achieve with greater success the EU’s own growth, jobs and investment agenda through trade, investment and other sector cooperation’. In this context the EC believes ‘investment and investment protection provisions will have to be integrated into broader trade agreements (including with ACP countries)’. For the EC the Cotonou Partnership Agreement is seen as being in need of a ‘substantial update’, so as to ‘capture the whole potential of the private sector for both ACP countries and European firms and citizens. (2)

In its assessment of the experience of the Cotonou framework to date the EC highlights how the CPA has already ‘been instrumental in fostering trade cooperation between the EU and the ACP’, maintaining ‘ACP-EU trade has steadily grown since the signature of the CPA in 2000, regardless of the global financial and economic crisis, and trade flows with the ACP more than doubled in the period 2000-2014’. The high rate of growth in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000 is highlighted (in excess of 5% per annum in some countries), as is the principal source of future growth, which is held to largely taken place outside the EU. The EC recognizes that growing markets in African ACP countries provide economic opportunities for EU businesses. The EC therefore argues the EU should ‘ensure that future relations with ACP countries support… seizing untapped economic opportunities’. (2)

Alongside this setting out of the EU’s agenda, the EC acknowledges the existing partnership has not  reduced the commodity dependence of ACP economies and has not facilitated economic diversification. Significantly the EC notes the CPA ‘has been less successful in generating investment opportunities in sectors that are vital for growth and job creation’. The EC therefore see’s a need for further efforts in this area to strengthen the long term sustainability of the economic performance of ACP countries. Unfortunately what needs to be done in this regard, particularly in terms of EU policy coherence for development commitments, is not explored. Equally the EC analysis pays little consideration to the structural economic development implications of different types of foreign investment. (2)

Specific Objectives:

– Foster sustainable development

– Enhance EU security and economic prosperity

– Ensure stronger alliances in addressing global challenges

– Strengthen inclusive participation of stakeholders at various levels

– Encompass evolving regional dynamics within & beyond ACP borders. 

EC Staff Working paper Impact Assessment, ‘a renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific’, 22 November 2016 SWD(2016) 380 final

Specific Objectives

– Promote peaceful & democratic societies, good governance, the rule of law and human rights for all

– Spur inclusive sustainable growth and decent jobs for all

– Turn mobility and migration into opportunities and address challenges together

– Promote human development and dignity

– Protect the environment and fight climate change

– Join forces in the global arena on areas of common interests.

EC, Joint Communication on, ‘a renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific’, 22 November 2016 JOIN(20146) 52 final

The third EC document can be seen as attempting to square the circle of EU political, economic and security objectives and ACP aspirations for structural transformation of their economies. This sets out the framework for the EC’s proposed approach to future ACP-EU cooperation, involving an umbrella ACP-EU framework agreement, under which three region specific agreements would be concluded. This document however, places far less emphasis on EU interests and greater emphasis on the EU’s commitment to the attainment of the sustainable development goals, which it believes should be central to the future ACP-EU cooperation framework. (3)

With specific reference to Africa it states as a specific objective of future EU-ACP cooperation: ensuring ‘an enabling environment for trade and responsible investment, private sector development, with a particular attention to the agri-food sector on which a majority of Africans depend for their livelihoods’. In this context it also makes specific reference to promoting ‘the effective implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreements in Africa, in order for economic operators to reap the full benefits offered by the agreements’. No direct reference is made to agriculture in the specific objectives set out for EU cooperation with Caribbean and Pacific countries. Indeed, the Africa region is the only ACP region where specific objectives are set out with reference to ‘mutual economic opportunities for sustainable development’. (3)

(1) EC, ‘Proposal for a new European Consensus on Development Our World, our Dignity, our Future’, COM(2016) 740 final, 22 November 2016
(2) EC, ‘A renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific’, Joint staff working document impact assessment, Accompanying the document Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council, 22 November
(3) EC, ‘A renewed partnership with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific’, Joint communication to the European Parliament and the Council, 22 November 2016

Comment and Analysis
A key consideration moving forward will be how broader EU interests and ACP agro-food sector interests  will be reconciled in practice.  In assessing how different EU priorities will be reconciled it is necessary to place each of the recent documents in context.The Commission staff working document on the renewal of the ACP partnership is essentially the EC making the case to EU member states for a particular mandate for renegotiation of the EU-ACP cooperation framework. In this context its primary focus is on EU member states interests and concerns.The EC Communication on the renewed partnership in contrast, seeks to set out in more detail how the EU-ACP cooperation framework should be restructured, and constitutes a public presentation of the case for a new approach.

The EC’s European Consensus on Development proposals seeks to align the EU’s approach with the international development consensus and hence highlight major aspects of international discussions on development issues, including with reference to the agro-food sector.

The different primary audiences being addressed by each document is thus one dimension of the context within which each document should be read and analysed.

The second dimension is more political in nature, and relates to the relative political strength of different constituencies which have an influence on the design and implementation of EU policies. While DG International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) is the principal intermediary in negotiations with the ACP, the Commission as a whole takes policy decisions as a collective body, taking into account the perspectives and concerns of all DGs.

DEVCO is thus obliged to take into account the concerns and perspectives of other Directorates such as: DG Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI); DG Trade (TRADE); DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE); DG Migration and Home Affairs (HOME); DG Economic and Financial Affairs; all of which have more powerful domestic constituencies in EU member states pushing for particular policy outcomes under the new EU-ACP cooperation framework than the constituency which stands behind EU development cooperation policy objectives.

For example, how trade agreements with ACP countries are applied in practice is likely to be more strongly influenced by DG Trade’s broader policy agenda in the WTO and beyond, than by concerns related to the development of individual ACP country’s agro-food sectors.

Similarly, given the powerful farming and agro-food exporting lobbies which are pressing the EC to take all necessary measures to ensure rapidly growing markets in developing countries are opened up to EU exporters on a preferential basis, it is difficult to conceive of how DG DEVCO will be able to bring about any changes in the implementation of EU agricultural policies where these conflict with ACP agro-food sector development interests.

It is against this background that in the agro-food sector ACP governments will need to carefully elaborate strategies on how they can best defend the policy space for local agro-food sector development and the structural transformation of their agro-food sectors in the forthcoming EU-ACP post-Cotonou negotiations.

ACP governments cannot rely on the good-will of DG DEVCO to protect their agro-food sector interests, given the fundamental contradiction which exists between the chosen trajectory for EU agro-food sector growth (with its strong export orientation) and ACP aspirations for the structural transformation of their own agro-food sectors. ACP governments will undoubtedly need the support of a well-organized and well-informed development NGO lobby in Europe, if ACP agro-food sector interests are to be respected in the forthcoming post-Cotonou negotiations.