ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly Feb04

Last month, I witnessed yet again the problems suffered by Ethiopia for myself - the lack of access to water, the inability to grow food on barren land and the daily struggle to prevent the death of children from curable diseases. Almost 12 million of the 70 million population of Ethiopia face famine, disease and poverty.


I attended the 7th ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA), held in Addis Ababa, along with Members of the European Parliament, Commissioners Pascal Lamy and Poul Nielson, Mr Tom Kitt, President of the EU Council, and MPs from the 78 developing countries that form the African Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) Group.


The JPA offers a platform to look at and formulate policies that can help solve the problems of economic development, mutual trade and human rights issues. The session also included visits for JPA members to assess food security in a rural area, private sector manufacturing companies and a local Fistula Hospital. Many MEPs appreciated these visits.


The session began by looking at a report on "Economic Partnership Arrangements"(EPA), which aim to tackle the problems of establishing regional markets and maximise trade between ACP countries as well as with the EU. The EPAs, aiming to make the most of natural resources found in each country to enhance regional and external trade, are crucial for sustaining the COTONOU Agreement signed by the ACP and the EU.


Rural populations in ACP countries, dependent on commodities such as cotton, sugar, coffee and bananas, suffer from declining prices and worsening terms of trade. Economic hardship can trigger civil unrest and breakdown in law and order. Commissioner Lamy highlighted the review of the Sugar Protocol and confirmed that both ACP sugar producers as well as sugar beet farmers in the EU will be best served by a modest cut in quota and price. 


While millions of peasant cotton farmers in Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali depend on the export revenue of their cotton, the USA and China dump large quantities of subsidised cotton on the world market.


I chaired the Conciliation Committee to secure a compromise Resolution on "Cotton and other commodities: problems encountered by ACP countries". I assured the ACP Parliamentarians that, despite nominal subsidies to Spanish and Greek cotton farmers, the EU remains a net importer of ACP cotton and continues to offer a higher price than the world price for such import quotas. 


Commissioner Nielson said substantial funds in the European Development Fund (EDF) remain undistributed because some of the ACP beneficiary countries continue to suffer from internal conflict, a lack of good governance and inadequate provision for human rights. Future EDF funding would depend on efficient and timely use of existing funds.


 I find it hard to justify to constituents and taxpayers continued EU support for oil-rich ACP countries such as the Republic of Congo which produces 330,000 barrels of oil per day yielding a potential $186,000 per capita income. Such a country, with huge natural resources (oil, minerals, timber and fertile land), would not need EU support if it had a competent, accountable and democratically elected government.


The JPA discussed the need for rapid responses to natural disasters like cyclones. While it was agreed that there should be a quicker response, it is a fact that money allocated for earlier disasters in distant lands remains unspent to this day!


Two JPA Standing Committee Reports covering "Conflict Prevention (Morrillon & Klutze) and "Tackling poverty diseases and reproductive health" (Scheele & Betkou) provoked lively debate and their recommendations were adopted by the assembly.


Future sessions should allocate more time to standing committees, field trips and workshops. As in Addis Ababa, the Assembly should have an opportunity to question the Prime Minister of the host country. Presentations read out without debate should not be on the agenda as printed copies can be circulated in advance to all JPA Members. Furthermore, at least a month before, the Commission must send MEPs and ACP House its report on the follow-up action in response to Resolutions adopted at the previous JPA.