May 2, 1984


BRUSSELS, APRIL 30 (IPS/YOJANA SHARMA)— Little progress is expected from the Ministerial meeting between the European Community and 64 Third World countries set for May 2 in Fiji.

The EEC and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are negotiating the third Lome trade and aid pact, the second successor agreement to Lome I, signed in 1975. And with those talks going nowhere, the joint Ministerial meeting in Suva, Fiji is seen by EEC diplomats as an "unblocking" session. "Fiji is supposed to break through any deadlocks in the negotiations so those things can move forwards. But many sectors have not advanced enough even to be deadlocked", said one ACP diplomat.

He indicated that although a review of negotiations on trade, energy, industrial cooperation, fisheries and other sectors will take up most of the agenda, the main issue at the back of every ACP diplomat's mind will be the financing for the agreement.

The ACP says future funds must reflect changes since Lome II was negotiated in 1979 and must be based on objective criteria, rather than what the EEC wants to give. The ACP asked for 11 billion dollars for Lome II and received 5.5 billion dollars.

Since then ACP populations have grown, terms of trade have deteriorated and more states have joined the agreement. The Third World negotiators say Lome III funds should be based on ACP needs. The EEC’s Brussels headquarters drew the line at ACP needs, which it says are "bottomless", but agreed those objective criteria should be discussed at Fiji even though some member states are against this. "We cannot avoid a discussion", an EEC spokesman said.

One EEC diplomat said entering into a discussion on criteria for financing the agreement would be falling "straight into an ACP trap". "The only reason I can see for discussion such criteria is to arrive at a figure", said the diplomat. "The size of the Lome fund was never fixed according to objective criteria, it is an internal EEC figure. That figure was never negotiable".

EEC member states have refused to take about money until "the last stage" of the negotiations.

The ACP also says the new agreement which will come into force when Lome II expires February 1985, must be based on the principle of "acquired rights", or benefits obtained under previous agreements, which they maintain cannot be eroded or changed in successive pacts.

This would mean that Lome funds could not be reduced or new conditions attached to aid. But the EEC says "acquired rights" cannot be legally binding, otherwise improvements could not be made to the Lome pact when things go wrong.

According to one EEC diplomat, "advantages gained in the past may not necessarily be the best formula for ACP development".

He said there would be no point in negotiating at all if the EEC could be pinned down on specific "rights" acquired by the ACP in the past from Lome. "If past benefits become rights", he added, "why waste time renegotiating, just renew the agreement".

ACP diplomats have indicated they are genuinely concerned that industrialised nations have been going back on commitments painstakingly negotiated in the past.

"We do not want to have to keep on seeking a reconfirmation of past commitments which detract from the real negotiating issues and which enable the industrialised countries to present themselves as ‘generous’ if they give us a reconfirmation", said one diplomat.

The ACP is particularly keen to keep stabex as it is. Stabex, an export stabilisation fund, is used to support commodity export earnings. The EEC now wants to make the previously unconditional stabex payments conditional on the money being used in the sector that registered the drop in export earnings or for diversifying out of the sector.

The EEC is unlikely to give way on these issues, so it is hardly surprising that few ACP diplomats believe anything will come out of the Fiji meeting to justify the long haul to the Pacific. The more optimistic among them feel it may clear the air so that real drafting of the new agreement can begin.

"We want to know where we stand with the EEC before we commit ourselves to paper", said an ACP official.