Esteemed Moderators of Panels,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you on this auspicious occasion of the seminar on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and the Future of the ACP Group. We feel profoundly honoured to have been accorded the priviledge to host this highly-anticipated event.
The seminar takes place against the background of the decision by the European Union to withdraw Market Access Regulation (MAR) 1528 of 2007 with effect from 1 October 2014. This regulation ensured continued duty and quota free access to the European market for ACP countries which had signed or initialed the EPA. Amongst others, the implication is that those ACP countries which do not implement the EPA before or with effect from the latter date will no longer be able to export goods to the European Union on a duty-free quota-free basis.
The EU decision places enormous pressure on ACP countries to conclude negotiations and activate the ratification process of the EPAs ahead of the 1 October 2014 deadline.
The seminar will also reflect on the future of the ACP group, in view of the pending expiry of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) with the EU in 2020. Will there be a second reincarnation of the ACP post 2020, or will the group close shop, what are the implications for either of these or a hybrid scenario? The ACP Ambassadorial Working Group on the Future Perspectives has been undertaking considerable work in this regard, and will share the current thinking in the group. In addition, the recently inaugurated Eminent Persons Group on the Future of the ACP, chaired by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has given high level visibility to the group. The decision to establish the EPG flows from the Sipopo Declaration adopted at the Malabo Summit of 2012.
This seminar is part of what I would like to call “a festival of ideas”, an on-going exchange of ideas, views and perspectives, on the exigencies of the moment facing the ACP group. To benefit from different perspectives, we have invited Ambassadors, senior government officials, senior officials from the Commission, the think-tank community, academic institutions, non-governmental organisation, etc. to participate in the seminar.
We hope that the views exchanged this afternoon will enrich internal ACP perspectives thereby helping us to charter a clear way-forward. We invite participants to take advantage of this rare platform and engage in a lively debate on the issues under discussion. An impressive, tantalising list of panelist has been lined up for this purpose.
Let me conclude by thanking my colleagues, Ambassadors of the Southern Africa region of the ACP group for their wise counsel and support which enabled us to assemble here this afternoon. A special word of gratitude goes to the Secretary-General, all the panelists and our esteemed moderators for gracefully accepting our invitation to participate in the seminar. Lastly, we thank the ACP Secretariat for availing conference and banqueting facilities without which it would not have been possible to organise the seminar.
With these few words I declare the seminar open.
I thank you for your attention.