On 22 November, participants in the 17th regional seminar of ACP-EU economic and social interest groups adopted a declaration highlighting the potential of the blue economy as a key factor for development in many eastern and southern African countries. The event, hosted by the EESC in Mauritius, was also an opportunity for civil society representatives to call for a greater role for civil society in the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements and bilateral Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs) and to acknowledge the role played by African and EU economic and social groups in the development of infrastructure.
According to the European Commission's definition in its 2018 Annual Economic Report on the EU Blue Economy, this term refers to "all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. It covers a wide range of interlinked established and emerging sectors". In 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development introduced this new paradigm as a corollary of Sustainable Development Goal 14: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development".
The concept of the blue economy was largely supported by participants in the ACP-EU seminar. Their joint declaration highlights the fact that the blue economy aims to "sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems from pollution, as well as to address the impact of ocean acidification through conservation and the sustainable use of ocean-based resources".
The declaration also points out that blue economy activities are based on the sustainable use of renewable resources and the related expertise, which encompasses a vast amount of know-how, knowledge and human tradition.
However, participants in the seminar draw attention to the vulnerability of small islands (including Small Island Developing States, SIDS) to global sea level rise, especially for vulnerable communities in coral reef environments, urban atoll islands and low-lying islands. The declaration also stresses the need to invest in the conservation of wetland areas in the Indian Ocean.
The adopted text also includes a reminder of the importance of the fisheries sector in the Indian Ocean as a major contributor to food security, employment and income for around 130 000 people, and of the sustainable management of fisheries resources and the fight against illegal fishing. In this regard, participants recognised the value of bilateral Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements negotiated by the EU with the countries of the South West Indian Ocean.
The seminar brought together delegates from economic and social interest groups from eastern and southern Africa, which includes the Indian Ocean islands (Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles), countries from the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan) and some countries of southern Africa (Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe), as well as members of the ACP-EU Follow-Up Committee of the EESC. Representatives of other EU and ACP institutions and international and regional organisations also attended, together with diplomats.
The role of civil society
One of the main topics discussed was the role of civil society in trade relations and regional integration. In this regard, participants agreed that civil society representatives should play a greater role in the negotiations on deepening the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and the countries of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) (Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe).
The underlying idea is that this modernised EU-ESA Economic Partnership Agreement could become the reference in terms of the inclusion of non-state actors and harness the experience of these actors concerning barriers to implementation.
According to Jarosław Mulewicz, EESC member and chair of the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee,
the main issue is the lack of information from both sides. African stakeholders don't know much about the way the EU works, and from the European side we need a mechanism to channel our participation; a massive flow of private funding is needed, but of course investors also need guarantees.
Another important topic of the seminar was the need to improve infrastructure to ensure economic progress, as the diversity of eastern and southern African countries in terms of geography, economy and culture poses a challenge to regional integration efforts. Here, participants acknowledged the importance of EU-funded programmes focused on specific countries, but stressed the need for "more synergies between EU instruments fostering cooperation and investment and promoting growth, jobs and competitiveness".
While recognising the potential of the digital revolution to change society, the economy and the workplace, the declaration admits the existence of mistrust, in particular regarding e-commerce, and recommends cooperation to tackle cyber-threats.
Transport infrastructure and the professionalisation of young people and businesses in the port sector were also mentioned as priorities in the declaration, which also pointed to the key role of raw materials and agricultural commodities in reducing poverty and malnutrition, ensuring food security, creating jobs, and promoting rural development and reducing the rural exodus. The declaration also emphasises the role played by communities as an engine of local development and stresses the value of micro-projects.