ECDPM has published a paper on the scope for deepening intra-ACP cooperation in support of agro-food sector transformation in ACP countries. Despite the multiplicity of trade regimes under which the ACP now trades with the EU, the paper highlights a range of areas where the ACP countries retain a common interest in collective action. This is rooted in the common interest that ACP governments have in transforming the basis for integration of ACP agro-food sectors into global supply chains, in ways that enhance the structural development of their economies.
Areas where value-added collective ACP actions are seen as viable include:
- establishing effective institutionalised mechanisms for dialogue around the design and implementation of SPS and food safety standards, with a view to minimising their adverse effects on ACP agro-food sector exports to the EU;
- minimising the costs to ACP exporters of the EC’s new proposed approach to the financing of food and feed controls;
- getting to grips with the policy challenge of the growing number of private standards affecting ACP agro-food sector exports – specifically, ensuring that codes of conduct are elaborated for the development of private standards that take account of the financial and social implications for ACP producers;
- getting to grips with the challenges posed by moves towards linking production process requirements to market access, most notably in the fisheries sector, but with potentially far wider coverage;
- acting collectively to maintain the policy space for agro-food sector development, particularly with regard to the use of traditional agricultural trade policy tools in support of sector-specific development programmes;
- sharing experience in the development and application of new policy frameworks for agro-food sector development in a new era of heightened global price volatility;
- providing support to export diversification by developing a common ACP programme for securing SPS approval for access to major emerging markets;
- developing sector-specific programmes to assist ACP exporters in finding their way around dynamic non-traditional markets (e.g. China);
- sharing experience on how developing exports to non-traditional markets can be used to support the structural transformation of the basis of engagement of ACP agro-food sectors with global supply chains;
- exploring the scope for more effective ACP actions around the WTO in addressing issues of common concern to the ACP.
The paper makes reference throughout to the institutional dimensions of the challenges faced, and the need to build the institutional capacity for effective value-added action at the ACP level. It closes with 18 specific recommendations for possible actions to address issues of common concern in ACP agro-food sector development.
Given the constraints faced in acting alone, there is a clear value in collectively addressing some of the substantive agro-food sector issues raised in the ECDPM analysis. But the question arises as to whether the ACP Group represents an appropriate vehicle for collective action.
This will critically depend on how the ACP’s role in taking forward collective action is defined. Many of the issues faced are multifaceted, requiring action at private sector level, national government level, regional level, multilateral level and, for some specific aspects, the collective ACP level, where real value-added can be achieved.
This, however, requires careful definition of the scope for action at the ACP level, and the mobilisation of the required technical and organisational expertise to provide substantive technical and political coordination for ACP initiatives to address the common issues.
It also requires firm political commitments from ACP leaders to continuing, yet refocused, action by the ACP as a group. National ACP leaders have a number of institutionalised options for taking up these issues – ranging from bilateral contacts and regional initiatives to the many multilateral institutions and even ad hoc, issue-specific alliances (e.g. around the EU’s stricter policy on the control of Citrus Black Spot) – while at the same time they often face very real technical and administrative capacity challenges in substantively taking up issues related to agricultural trade. Why action at the level of the ACP Group should be added to these options for addressing substantive new issues is by no means self-evident.
Much will depend on demonstrating that the technical capacities for addressing specific aspects of these issues can be more cost-effectively established at the ACP level, and that such action can complement – and, more importantly, enhance – national, regional, multilateral and even ad hoc actions aimed at addressing the issues of common concern.