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About the Author

Ahmed ElAmin
Journalist (Brussels, Belgium)

I started my life as a hack covering development projects for street children in Brazil; ended up teaching at a high school in Botswana; barged around the Kalahari reporting on local development projects for a magazine and also covered business stories for AFP; wandered around Southern Africa, Europe, and India; worked for a newspaper on the health and Native Canadian beat in Canada before heading off to Bermuda to cover finance and the reinsurance market; co-founded an online publication on offshore finance while living in a village of 700 people in Languedoc; drank a lot of wine; moved to Montpellier to cover the food and drink industry when the dot.com boom and the publication collapsed; drank a lot more wine covering that sector in France and Spain; and somehow ended up in Brussels working for a private communications company. At least the beer is good.

Post

Talking in Tenerife

Published 30th March 2010 - 0 comments - 2267 views -

Bananas, the global financial crisis and climate change are the topics for discussion on the resort island of Tenerife as parliamentarians from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group and Europe meet for their twice-annual get together.

The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly formally opened yesterday in Tenerife, part of Spain’s Canary Islands. The twice yearly meeting brings together 78 Members of the European Parliament  and 78 parliamentarians from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states. This meeting ends on 1 April.

The agenda and accompanying reports focus on the effect of the EU-Latin American banana agreement, under which the ACP countries will slowly be weaned off their preferential trade status with the EU, along with coping with the global crisis and climate change. Migration is also on the agenda, along with a debate on Haiti's reconstruction and the consolidation of the peace process in Southern Sudan ahead of the general elections of mid-April.

Meeting in sunny Tenerife. Image: NASA.

The banana sector is a hot topic given the lowering of tariffs for Latin American bananas. The EU was forced to do so after the World Trade Organisation ruled twice against it for discriminating against Latin American countries in favour of ACP countries, a grouping of former colonies of EU member states.

As the competition from Latin America heats up, the 10 main ACP banana producers – Belize, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname – will have to find ways to diversify their economies and reduce their dependence on income from exports to the EU. A joint declaration on bananas will be made by the EU and ACP co-presidents on 1 April.

Broadly, the agreement cuts the tariff which the EU applies to bananas imported from Latin American countries. This slowly brings to an end a trade war, conducted at the World Trade Organisation, between the US and their banana companies and the EU, which put the tariff on to support its former colonies in the ACP group. ACP countries were allowed to bring a set amount of bananas into the EU duty free. This will continue for a few years and some will receive money from the EU to make the transition.

The assembly will also debate and vote on two major reports submitted for consideration. In general, both reports support some form of levy (on recovery packages) or international taxation (to raise new funds for new and current threats to growth).

Social impact of the global crisis

The 4-page committee report (PDF) on the social impact of the global financial crisis invites the assembly to consider “a) what the global financial turmoil means for the social sector in developing countries, and b) what developing country policy-makers, both legislators and members of the executive, need know to be able to institute appropriate responsive measures that will meet the social needs of their populations”.

The report notes that the bulk of the income of the poor (up to 80% based on some estimates) is spent on food, which makes them most vulnerable to increases in food prices.

It calls for consideration of the call by the World Bank President Robert Zoellick for the creation of vulnerability funds to assist developing countries that can’t afford bailouts and deficits. The vulnerability funds would be created by developed countries, which would donate 0.7% of their respective stimulus packages.

The focus of vulnerability funds could target the creation of safety net programmes; food-for-work programmes; seed and fertilizer projects; maternal and child nutrition projects; and school meal programmes.

“It should be underlined that investments in health, education and nutrition must be more than temporary poverty relief, they are investments in human capital,” the report states. “Development partners should continue to honour and even scale up aid commitments. Current financing constraints make it even more important for donors to ensure, in keeping with the Paris Declaration, that aid is predictable, transparent, and aligned with the policy priorities of the recipients.”

The report also calls for countries to coordinate global policy to help development efforts centred on jobs, sustainable enterprises, quality public services, protecting people, safeguarding rights and promoting participation.

The report refers to the International Labour Organisation’s Decent Work Agenda and the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalisation as ways of dealing with globalisation.

The report calls for developing countries to establish a Global Poverty Alert System to monitor the economic and social impact of the crisis, as suggested by the Overseas Development Institute.

“It is important to note that countries that are not competitive or have not responded to the crisis are not well positioned to gain from any global recovery. Thus, much of the responsibility lies within developing countries themselves,” the report chides some of its members.

Climate change

The report on the Financial and economic impact of climate change (PDF) identifies the risk of climate change to agriculture, livestock and fisheries, main contributors in most developing economies. Risks to substandard buildings, the tourist industry, the environment and the health sector are also pinpointed.

The report proposes new fund facilities are needed to help developing countries cope with climate change, which it points out is due to developed world growth: “For developing countries, mitigation and adaptation will be costly, and the burden of these costs will fall to the developed countries whose past and present emissions are amplifying and accelerating current and future climate change. Clearly, if developing countries are to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and also put in place measures to combat climate change, the finance for climate-related activities will have to be additional to internationally agreed targets for Official Development Assistance.”

The report suggests that the global investment needed to mitigate climate change should be raised by “emissions taxing, targeted levies on global economic and financial activities, and stringent taxes on highly polluting private companies”.

Get the theme? Mo’ money, mo’ money through international taxes all around.

Sunny junket?

Of course, the UK’s Daily Mail, quoted critics, including Friends of the Earth, who labelled the meeting an “expensive junket” for a talking shop that would cost EU tax payers about €600,500.

“But no treaties will be signed and no legislation will come into force as the summit has no power to enshrine decisions in law,” the Daily Mail whimpered in envy. “Instead, the 250 delegates will enjoy visits to the island’s finest beaches and be wined and dined at gala dinners while living it up in luxury hotels.”

In response, an ACP-EU spokesman told the newspaper that Tenerife was chosen because the Canary Islands were Europe’s biggest banana producer and one of the main gateways for illegal immigration.

Signed and delivered

Some work has been done, despite the pleasant climes. Over the weekend, the members of a working party representing the European Union and Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) assembly signed a joint statement calling for a feasibility study into a single financial instrument for co-operation, to help overcome the difficulties with using European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money.

The document calls for the creation of an area of cooperation called the "Euro-African Atlantic space" and the improvement of air and sea connections, energy efficiency, the information society, tourism, combating illegal immigration, terrorism and organised crime, improving business investment, gender equality, combating climate change and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Other news: The EU plans to pledge about €1.2bn at the ministerial-level International Donors’ Conference on 31 March at the UN Headquarters in New York. The first goal of the conference is to secure the foundation for Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction through pledges to meet the estimated $3.8 billion required over the next two years. The EU delegation plans to stress the need for a long-term strategy over the next ten years to complete projects to rebuild the country. An estimated €10 billion is needed over the 10 years.

More information:

Agenda of 19 ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly

Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States

World Trade Organisation: chronology of the banana disputes in GATT/WTO


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