Friday December 15, 2017
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BACKGROUND

The African, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP) of states is an organisation created by the Georgetown Agreement signed in 1975. The Group was originally created with the aim of coordinating cooperation between its members and the European Union. Its main objective was to negotiate and implement cooperation agreements with the European Union. However, over the years the Group has gone beyond development cooperation with the European Union, to cover a variety of issues spanning trade, politics and culture. There are 79 members of the ACP - 48 Sub-Saharan; 16 Caribbean; and 15 Pacific States.  

EVOLVEMENT OF THE ACP-EU RELATIONSHIP

The relationship between the ACP and the European Union (EU) dates back to the 1960s when the Yaoundé Convention was concluded which was then followed by the Lome Conventions and now the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA). Lome I was signed in 1975; followed by Lome II in 1980; Lome III in 1985; and the Lome IV (1990-2000). As the name suggest, the Lome Conventions were concluded in Lome the capital city of Togo. Currently, the relationship between the ACP and the EU is defined by the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) signed in Cotonou, the capital city of Benin in 2000. The CPA is the main link between the EU and ACP countries and it expires in 2020.

MAIN PILLARS OF THE ACP-EU RELATIONSHIP

The relationship between the ACP and the EU is based on three complementary pillars, namely: the development cooperation; economic and trade cooperation; and political cooperation pillars.

FUNDAMENTAL OBJECTIVES OF THE ACP GROUP

The core objectives of the Group as outlined in the Cotonou Partnership Agreement are: attainment of sustainable growth and economic development in ACP states; poverty reduction with the aim of eradication; and the smooth and gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy through cementing economic, political, social and cultural ties.

THE MISSION: EMBASSY OF THE KINGDOM OF SWAZILAND

OBJECTIVES OF THE MISSION

The main objective of the Embassy is in line with the stated mission statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation: “to establish and maintain international relations, trade and cooperation between the Kingdom of Swaziland and the international community”. The objective of the Mission is also in congruence with the fundamental objectives of the ACP Group as outlined above. To this end, the broad objective of the Embassy is to: promote and strengthen the relationship between the Kingdom of Swaziland and the European Union, the ACP states, the regional and multilateral institutions and the international community at large.

HOW THE COUNTRY STANDS TO UNIQUELY BENEFITS BENEFIT FROM THE MISSION'S PRESENCE

There are vast benefits that the country derives and/or stands to derive from its relationship with the European Union and also by virtue of the Mission’s physical presence in Brussels. The benefits are enshrined in the three pillars of the ACP-EU relationship enumerated above. It must be stated at the outset that the ‘all encompassing’ benefit that facilitates the attainment of the other benefits is the ability of the country to act together with all ACP countries as a single entity in negotiating pertinent issues of common interest. This is a very important strength of the Mission’s presence in Brussels since there is power in numbers. To this end, the ACP’s bargaining power in negotiating with the EU is strengthened.

THE THREE PILLARS AND ASSOCIATED BENEFITS

It is important to prefix the discussions of the benefits derived by underscoring that the European Union is one of the major trading and development partners of the Kingdom of Swaziland. Below is a concise summary of the benefits enshrined in the three fundamental pillars of the ACP-EU partnership. It should be noted that these are discussed in a broad sense; otherwise there are linkages and finer details of the benefits associated with the Mission’s presence in Brussels.

THE TRADE PILLAR

Trade with the EU is reinforced by the preferential market access extended by the EU to all ACP countries. The EU provides duty free quota free (DFQF) access to all ACP (including Swaziland) goods imported into the EU market. This simply means that goods imported from Swaziland (and other ACP countries) to the EU do not pay customs duty and the goods can be exported in unlimited quantities. For Swaziland, topping the list of products exported into the EU under this arrangement is trade in sugar, one of the main exports of the country. Sugar plays a multifunctional role in the Kingdom of Swaziland in terms of revenue, contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a raw material for other industries and has a ripple effect on numerous formal and informal sectors of the economy. However, the importance of trade in sugar does not in any way negate the importance of other products exported into the EU market at a preferential rate. 

In order to be incongruence with the ever evolving trade both at the regional and multilateral level, there are various trade meetings and/or negotiations that continually take place within the ACP; within the various regional economic communities (RECs); and also between the ACP and the EU. A good example is the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the ACP and the EU. This Agreement is a vehicle that provides preferential access of the ACP goods into the EU market. The Mission though not negotiating directly, it acts as a conduit between the EU and the Capital in updating on the evolvement of developments within the European Union. In all these meetings and negotiations, all ACP countries are expected to be represented because there are important decisions taken in the process. To this end, the presence of the Mission cannot be overemphasized.

The trade pillar is covered and well documented by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade. 

THE DEVELOPMENT PILLAR

Also enshrined in the relationship between the ACP Group and the EU is the development pillar. This involves the provision of financial assistance covering a wide range of pertinent projects of social and economic nature. The financial assistance is provided under the European Development Fund (EDF).

The presence of the Mission in Brussels continues to play an important role since discussions/negotiations of development issues are undertaken by the ACP Committee of Ambassadors in Brussels. The negotiations are also conducted between the EU and the ACP Group. Further, there are other follow ups that the Missions is expected to make regarding these issues, thus the representation of the country is expedient.

The nature and extent of this assistance is well documented by the Aid Coordination and Management Department of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, the Department responsible for the mobilisation and management of external assistance for the implementation of various programmes and projects within and outside Government.

THE POLITICAL PILLAR

The ACP-EU partnership also covers the political dimension of the relationship whereby dialogue among the ACP countries and also between the ACP and EU regions are undertaken as and when necessary. Such issues are discussed by Parliamentarians of the two regions, under the Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) umbrella. The issues discussed by the JPA are not limited to politics but also include trade and social issues that have linkages to politics.

Further, in case of any misunderstanding on political and/or related issues between the EU and an ACP state, the Cotonou Partnership Agreement provides for consultations and political dialogue between the member state(s) in question and the EU. This facilitates the smooth and healthy operationalization of the ACP-EU partnership. The Mission also take part in these discussions, particularly the JPA and coordinates and provides necessary information to the capital.

Issues discussed under the political pillar are well documented in Parliament since the Kingdom of Swaziland is always represented by a designated Parliamentarian in all JPA meetings, courtesy of the sponsorship provided by the ACP Secretariat.

CUSTOMS' MATTERS

The Mission also handles customs and customs related issues. This has been made possible by collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the newly established Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA). SRA has its office at the Mission and this has reduced costs tremendously as against the setting up of an independent SRA in Brussels working on Customs issues. Most importantly, the SRA office couldn’t have been at a strategic place than Brussels because the World Customs Organization (WCO) is headquartered in Belgium.

The importance of the Customs issues cannot be overemphasized in light of the need for countries to widen their revenue base and strengthen their collection ability especially in the advent of the global economic and financial crises. Further, there are linkages between trade and customs issues. To this end, as the previous discussions above have underscored, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Swaziland in Brussels is one Mission that coordinates important trade issues. Trade and customs issues are interdependent because the latter facilitates the former while one of the major sources of Government revenue is through trade. 
  
CONCLUSION 


In order to be conversant with the issues discussed in Brussels, the Mission has to keep track of all discussions and pay close attention so that an informed analysis is made. This requires participation in the various subcommittees and follow-up to all issues where the country derives maximum benefits.

Further, the Mission together with other countries in the regions, Africa in particular, complements the regional economic communities (RECs) in facilitating integration in the regions such as the SADC whereby investment and tourism seminars are convened in Brussels. Other important regional issues include strategizing on the Tripartite (COMESA-EAC-SADC) integration, whereby the Brussels Based Tripartite Ambassadors have come together to advance and augment the integration process especially in popularizing it at the European Union. This is possible by virtue of their proximity to the European Union Headquarters.

The Mission is also expected to advance bilateral cooperation to discuss issues of economic and social importance to the Kingdom of Swaziland, particularly with countries of accreditation.

Finally, against this backdrop, it is important to reiterate that the presence of the Mission in Brussels cannot be overemphasized.
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