AfT: supporting ACP efforts in regional economic integration and EPA implementation

4 September 2008

In its Conclusions on Economic Partnership Agreements of May 2008, the EU's General Affairs and External Relations Council reinforced the EU commitment to increase Aid for Trade (AfT), in particular vis-à-vis the ACP partners. The aid is to support trade and regional integration as well as adjustment needs that result from the implementation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) or interim agreements. Despite repeating this commitment several times, translating it into concrete and effective action proves to be a continuous challenge.

Where does the process stand?

Besides the pro-developmental design of the agreements themselves, EPA accompanying measures constitute the second development-friendly pillar of the EPAs. In 2008, the EU Commission revitalised regional programming of the 10th European Development Fund (EDF), which focuses on regional integration and trade - including EPA support. This process should be finalised by the end of 2008 with the signature of regional strategy papers and indicative programmes
for each of the six ACP regions cooperating with the
European Community.

The ACP and the EU have jointly started to identify priority areas to support EPA negotiations and implementation since 2005, during various Regional Preparatory Task Force (RPTF) meetings. The needs identified in these meetings will create the basis for the response strategy of the EU (Commission and member states) and possibly other donors.

Good progress has been made in each of the regions, yet the process revealed challenges. Assuring adequate participation of experts who understand both the EPA process and the national dimension was difficult for ACP and EU member states, resulting in a weak link between the two. Another challenge was to address and synchronise EPA accompanying measures within the wider context of support for regional economic communities - without creating tensions. Delays in negotiations and a final outcome in December 2007 made the process even more complex, as whole regional groupings signed a single agreement and some countries changed configurations at the very last minute.

In order to streamline this process, the EU Commission suggested so-called regional Aid for Trade (AfT) packages. These AfT packages do not form another financial commitment by the EU at the regional level, but are intended as tools to better align the process of regional integration and EPA support on one hand, and donor coordination on the other. In its May 2008 Conclusions, the Council welcomed the Commission's initiative on regional AfT packages as a means to provide "an effective, coherent and concrete EU response to needs and priorities expressed by the ACP countries and regions, including in national and regional development plans, and to foster coordination among all donors and recipients." 2

Yet the experience from RPTF and other programming meetings showed that there is still a great deal of work ahead before these regional AfT packages are ready to roll out.

What is needed next?
The elaboration of regional AfT packages, based on the 10th EDF programming, offers an excellent opportunity to apply the principles of the Paris Declaration and the EU Code of Conduct on Complementarity and Division of Labour. To structure the process, the EU Commission and its member states have drafted provisional working arrangements, according to which the next logical steps should be:

  • Moving the process to the regions:
    This is the only way to achieve true ownership of the agreements and donor alignment with the ACP partner processes. Getting the right people to the right meetings has to be improved in this regard.
  • Applying of the ownership principle:
    Ownership should be taken by regional partners in more specific ways than through the general integration objectives on hand in most regional economic communities, 10th EDF regional programming documents or RPTF results. Regional communities need to formulate their medium-term operational strategies and corresponding work programmes containing clearly defined priorities on regional integration and EPA support. In those areas where such strategies do not (yet) exist, support should be given to the partners drafting them.
  • Implementation of the alignment principle:
    In cases where there are planning documents from the regional organisations (strategies, corresponding operational plans or procedures) these should consistently be adapted and strengthened. Under certain circumstances this may mean that donors have to adapt their respective planning cycles to those of the partners. By no means should the initialling of interim agreements with sub-regions or even with single countries result in new intra-regional tensions.
  • Enhanced coordination:
    Finally, intensive coordination between donors (involving ACP partners) to define who will engage in which sector is essential to make the process run effectively. In this regard, the EU Commission should play an important and prominent role, as it is present and active in relevant development areas in all ACP regions. The Commission's coordination should include (a) steering the process in a spirit of cooperation based on mutual trust; (b) specifying schedules with milestones leading to the completion of AfT packages in each region; and (c) elaborating an on-site moderation and information policy. Experience to date has shown that the process of coordination between donors and partners - and among donors themselves - requires a great deal of time and effort. Nonetheless, the EU must stick to this path to make aid more effective. The process design outlined above is intended to drive this forward.

 

1 Birgit Hofmann works in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Division 315 - Globalisation, Trade and Investment. The views expressed in this article represent those of the author only and should not be attributed to BMZ. The author can be contacted at: ">

2 Doc 9629/08 - paragraph 9 of the EU Council Conclusions of May 27 2008.

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