Ending or Evolving: the UK/ACP Relationship

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An article in the Sunday Gleaner of February 2 titled ACP Sugar Producers want UK to provide new incentives” led me to reflect further on the UK/ACP relationship post brexit.

Resulting from the membership of the United Kingdom (UK) in the European Union (EU), forty-one (41) developing Commonwealth members joined in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group, and have been in a treaty relationship with the EU from 1975, Lomé to Cotonou. It seems that the UK’s approach to the ACP became lukewarm through these years.

Expiration of the Cotonou Agreement

The 2000 ACP/EU Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) to which the UK has been a party as a member of the EU expires on February 29. The UK formally withdrew from its EU membership on January 31 and is in the transition period to end on December 31. From Article 129 of the UK’s EU Withdrawal Agreement dealing with external actions in the transition period, the CPA would remain applicable to the UK up to December 31. An EU Council Decision of November 2019 on the CPA informs that the EU and ACP agreed to extend it to December 31 or until a new agreement, now being negotiated, is concluded and adopted.

Therefore, from January 1, 2021, the CPA, which covers political, economic, social and cultural relations between the ACP and EU will no longer apply to the UK. This will also apply to development cooperation. The UK contributed 15% of financing to the €30.5 billion European Development Fund (EDF) from which the ACP is funded. The EDF is to be integrated into the new EU budget for 2021-2027.

I found a UK Parliament document from May 2018 which indicates that the UK has been considering its post brexit relationship with the ACP, whether it should be a non-EU observer to the new post-Cotonou Agreement. This also includes whether it will contribute to EU development financing. I found no other documents informing of the UK’s decision.

I was not aware that the UK has been an active participant in the post-Cotonou agreement negotiations or that it is contemplated that this agreement should have observers. I assume the UK contribution to EU development finance should be addressed during the transition.

Thus, effective December 31, with the end of the CPA, only the trade relationship between the UK and ACP countries covered by the regional Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) will remain.

Continuity EPAs

Since 2018, the UK has agreed continuity EPAs with ACP regions/countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The ACP Caribbean (CARIFORUM) signed its continuity EPA with the UK in March 2019. These EPAs will take effect on January 1, 2021 to ensure that preferential trade between the UK and ACP countries will continue.

In his address to ACP Trade Ministers in Brussels in October 2018, then UK Trade Policy Minister, George Hollingbery, said that the ACP countries remained important to UK commerce and the UK would be working with them to increase  trade post brexit as the country turned to the world.

The UK is definitely courting Africa now. On January 20, the government hosted a UK/Africa Trade and Investment Summit in London. The invitees were not only from ACP African countries. It seems there will be another opportunity for the business community to engage with African leaders when the Commonwealth Africa Summit is held in London in March. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in June and intra-Commonwealth trade will be on the agenda. There will be business related events.

In a Commonwealth context, the UK now has its “Pacific Uplift” policy through which it is increasing its diplomatic presence and engagement in this region.

I have heard that a UK/Caribbean meeting is being scheduled for the spring in London. There is a UK/Caribbean strategy prepared by the UK High Commissioners and Ambassadors in this region. I referred to this in my article titled “The UK’s approach to the Caribbean post Brexit” published in the Gleaner on September 18, 2019.

I am sure Caribbean sugar producers were involved in crafting the ACP Sugar proposal to the UK.

I believe, however, that CARIFORUM needs to be clear on the UK/ACP relationship following the transition period. Will the UK still be engaging with: the ACP group/Organization; the individual ACP countries and regions; or through the Commonwealth? There is need for clarification of the UK’s position. This will determine whether the UK will be dealing with CARIFORUM or CARICOM in the future. Nevertheless, the Caribbean does need to be determining its approach to the UK.


Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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