The EU-ACP Partnership: A Post-Cotonou Agreement in a Changing World, by Rodrigo Lyra

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement is a framework for cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the African Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), which was signed in June 2000 and put into force in 2003 for a period of 20 years, namely by the end of 2020. The ACP Group is the largest intergovernmental association of developing countries with a permanent secretariat (ACP, 2014). Hence, it is no surprise that between 1975 and 2013 the ACP had received more than 78 billions of aid through the European Development Fund (EDF), benefiting 18,5% of the global population (ECDPM, 2014).

As noted by Santos and Caetano (2009), it is impossible to understand the fundamentals of the EU-ACP Partnership without considering the whole history of this relationship as well as its institutional dynamics since the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). On this note, there is evidence that EU-ACP relations are going through a period of crisis and stagnation, largely caused by the new interests of the European Union, not to mention the creation of the WTO, which was designed to substitute the preferential and non-reciprocal agreements for the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

In the past twenty-five years, several factors have changed the political landscape between the EU and ACP, such as the end of the Cold War, which encouraged democratic movements in the ACP countries, and the EU’s recognition that cooperation could only be effective if domestic efforts were moving in the same direction (TEKERE, 2001). In this regard, cooperation among countries was something The Treaty of Rome (1957) called for. Articles 131 to 136 deal with Association of the Overseas Countries and Territories, establishing special relations with the purpose of promoting the economic and social development.

The first Yaoundé Convention (1963) was meant to recognize the sovereignty of the newly independent countries as well as establishing common ground between the EEC and the EMEA — a shorthand designation meaning Europe, the Middle East and Africa. (HOLLAND, 2002). The Yaoundé Convention was pioneering, as it aimed to be a multilateral agreement to generate development in the context of regional cooperation among countries of the EMEA, and innovative in relation to North-South cooperation (HOLLAND, 2002).

This may be so, but it is extremely flimsy at present. One of the most frequent criticisms of the Yaoundé Conventions was precisely the accusation that it represented the permanence of certain colonial patterns, as it maintained the relationship of economic dependence between European countries and their former colonies, without any reciprocity among the parties involved. The argument went that, even though the colonial standards had been modified, the EEC’s preferential access to the markets for raw materials and other primary products remained quite the same. In return, the EEC countries offered credit and grants as a way of “accepting a continuation of neocolonial method” (NUNN; PRICE, 2004, p.211 apud PEREIRA, 2014).

For such reasons, there was a decline in the trade balance between the African and Malagasy Union (AMU) and the EEC during the duration of the Yaoundé II Convention. Thus, 11.6% of the total volume of EEA’s exports to developing countries in 1956 went to the AMU; in 1974 that number dropped to 8.6%. Similarly, in 1958 the EEC total imports originated from AMU countries represented only 13.4% of all imports from developing countries, a number that declined to 8.6% in 1974 (RAVENHILL, 1985, p. 61 apud PEREIRA, 2014).

The first Lomé Convention (1975-1980) was signed on February 28, 1975 and it entered into force in 1976. This Convention institutionalized the ACP acronym, which now includes 18 members of the AMU besides 6 African states, being 21 part of the Commonwealth (PEREIRA, 2014). In terms of trade cooperation, the Convention followed the principle of non-reciprocity, in other words, although the EEC countries give preferential treatment to exports from the ACP, these countries were not required to grant preferential treatment to the EEC (PEREIRA, 2014).

The Cotonou Agreement represented a rupture with the past. The promotion of regional integration of ACP member countries acquires particular importance, as well as the end of the non-reciprocal trade preferences granted by the EU, as they were prohibited by the Doha Round (SANTOS; CAETANO, 2009). The Cotonou Agreement, in accordance with the purposes of the WTO rules, provides for a transitional period for the introduction of Economic Partnership Agreements, which are intended to replace the obsolete non-reciprocal Lomé regimes by 2020 (SANTOS; CAETANO, 2009).

In this regard, it is possible to highlight two phases related to the implementation of the Cotonou Agreement. The first phase, between 2000 and 2007, when non-reciprocal trade preference regimes were postponed with the objective of stalling for time so that the ACP Group could develop their infant industries. The second one, between 2008 and 2020, EPAs should be gradually introduced, which means that even the least developed ACP member should allow market access (SANTOS; CAETANO, 2009).

Notwithstanding those remarks, the Central Africa and the ESA (Eastern and Southern Africa) have not yet concluded the negotiations for the regional EPA, which reveals that the transition process of the non-reciprocal preferences for EPA is turning out to be rather more difficult (EU, 2017). This situation becomes even more serious if one considers that the ACP Group corresponds to a population of approximately 933 million or some 14% of the world’s population. Still, it only represents 4.7% of global trade and account for 1.9% of the world’s GDP, virtually the same level as in 1975 (ACP, 2014).

From the foregoing, it should also be considered the unwillingness for ACP governments to sign free trade agreements with the UE. Some ACP countries submitted contradicting arguments, claiming on one hand that their industries are not strong to stand up to foreign competition. Indeed, this seems to be a reality, if one considers their economic fragility. Nevertheless, the reasons for the generally low diversification of their industrial park and their high dependence on protectionist measures can be traced largely to domestic issues – the level of corruption and mismanagement are alarmingly high.

On the other hand, the European Union seems less interested in the ACP countries than in previous decades, particularly in Africa. This is because the UE is currently more interest in backyard problems, such as the “Brexit”, than implementing the arrangements with the ACP. Besides, Europe has lost ground in Africa, especially after the rise of new international actors such as China and India. There will be no overnight transformation. A new agreement from 2020 will therefore depend on a constant re-ordering of priorities by both the UE and the ACP. Whether this will occur is yet to be seen.


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ECDPM. 2014. The Future of ACP-EU Relations post-2020: An overview of relevant analysis. Maastricht: ECDPM.

EU. 2017. European Commission. Overview of Economic Partnership Agreements. Available at:

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Santos, Ana Maria Morgado; Caetano, José Manuel. Os acordos de cooperação económica entre a União Europeia e os países ACP. Economic and Cooperation Agreements between European Union and ACP countries. Relações Internacionais. Lisboa ,  n. 22, jun.  2009.

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About the author

Rodrigo Lyra holds a MA in International Relations from the University of Brasília – UnB.

How to cite this article

Mundorama. "The EU-ACP Partnership: A Post-Cotonou Agreement in a Changing World, by Rodrigo Lyra". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais,. [Acessado em 23/09/2017]. Disponível em: <>.
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