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Holdouts cast shadow over new EU pact with African, Caribbean and Pacific states

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The EU this week finally sealed an agreement on a new treaty that will govern relations with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) community, but the refusal of 35 of the 79 ACP states to sign it has cast a shadow over its merits. 

Talks on a successor to the Cotonou Agreement, the treaty signed between the EU and the ACP nations in 2000, began in 2019 and negotiators signed off on a deal in 2021. However, that presaged a two-year delay while Hungary and Poland refused to ratify the new treaty. 

The new treaty is designed to serve as a legal framework guiding relations between the EU’s 27 nations and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries for the next two decades. 

However, at the formal signing ceremony in Samoa on Wednesday (15 November), 35 ACP countries refused to sign the agreement which will provisionally enter into force in January 2024. 

The holdouts include 20 African countries, 9 Caribbean states and six in the Pacific. 

The repeated delays have been a growing source of frustration for EU officials, with many worrying that the bloc’s failure to ratify the treaty would be viewed as bad faith by its partners. 

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen remarked that she was “satisfied that our long journey has come to a successful end”.

EU politicians see the treaty as an important symbol of the bloc’s diplomatic relations with the ACP, particularly African states, many of whom are at odds with the EU’s positions on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the war in Gaza. 

“After much delay, it is now of crucial importance for the new Agreement to be put into place quickly as there is an urgent need to strengthen multilateral cooperation in the face of growing geopolitical instability and unprecedented global challenges,” commented Tomas Tobé, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Development Committee. 

Warsaw had withheld its signature in protest at the treaty’s language promoting non-discrimination, LGBT+ rights and gender equality, while a handful of African states had previously indicated their reluctance to ratify the treaty over its provisions on non-discrimination which, they say, promote homosexuality. 

Other critics of the Samoa Agreement complain that the treaty is short of substance. 

The agreement will create three new parliamentary assemblies for the three regional blocs of the ACP but keep trade relations unchanged and no longer have an aid programme tied to it. 

Instead, it establishes “common principles” in key areas such as human rights, climate change and migration. 

“We remain hopeful that the ACP countries who haven’t signed the agreement today will be able to do so by the end of the year,” said Lisa Goerlitz, Head of Brussels office, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung.  

“Now it’s imperative that both the EU and ACP states translate their commitments into concrete actions, involving youth and civil society organisations in working towards the achievement of shared goals,” Goerlitz said.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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