The Royal Commonwealth Society convened the latest in its series of Brexit Roundtables on the 7th November 2017. The event was kindly hosted at the Cyprus High Commission and chaired by H.E. Euripides Evriviades, High Commissioner of Cyprus. The guest speaker was Mr. Nicos Kouyialis, Cypriot Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment.
Mr. Nicos Kouyialis
Brexit offers an opportunity to jointly address issues and has made the space for a timely debate about the future of the Commonwealth. We must establish formal cooperation between the EU and the Commonwealth, and avoid the duplication of work. Cyprus will be a messenger and strong voice for the Commonwealth in the EU.
Cyprus has always supported free trade agreements among the EU and third countries, especially when these countries are members of the Commonwealth, with which there is a special link. Cyprus will support the EU Commissions proposals for opening up talks for the free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand.
Agriculture is crucial for job creation and economic growth. The Commonwealth could be a key stakeholder in the post-2022 review on the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific states (ACP) agreement. The blue economy is a key area for potential partnership between the EU and the Commonwealth. The EU could do more to support Commonwealth countries, particularly in terms of infrastructure and logistical assistance.
There should be a greater focus on small island states. Ocean protection is a high EU priority, and they have convened an upcoming international conference on this topic in Malta. Science and technology, particularly agricultural research, has a high potential for partnership. We must urgently move from the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement to concrete action.
EU-Commonwealth cooperation must not be about quick fixes, but instead long-term structured cooperation that can be expanded also in multilateral fora like the UN in both New York and Geneva. The Commonwealth Secretary General could be invited to attend EU council meetings such as on the Development of Agriculture, to promote their interests.
The full opening remarks made by Mr. Kouyialis can be found in the report.
Question and Answer Session
One Pacific High Commissioner suggests the EU Common Agricultural Policy (EU-CAP) is the biggest barrier to EU free trade with the world. They ask whether it will be possible to wind back some tariff quotas on products like fresh beef. They note that when the EU expanded it did not enlarge quotas to accommodate this change; now that it is shrinking again there is no reason these quotas should be reduced. Mr Kouyialis responds that Cyprus is confidant trade barriers can be overcome, however it must be noted that internally the EU has a huge variety of competing national and regional interests regarding agriculture and agricultural trade policy.
An African High Commissioner states there is a problem of market access that needs resolution. A Caribbean High Commissioner adds that trade is not just about Free Trade Agreements. EU policies like the dumping of subsided surplus sugar crops damages the trade of developing nations. There must be structured communication with the EU on this. On this point, a further Caribbean High Commissioner adds that the differing levels of development in countries must be acknowledged in trade policy, so developing countries are not crowded out. Mr Kouyialis cannot state what measures the EU may be planning, but there needs to be action that leads to tangible results. The sugar issue is of the utmost importance.
A Caribbean High Commissioner also questions EU policy regarding forestry, and asks if current varying national rules and standards for timber could be unified. Mr Kouyialis states the rules must have flexibility, but this is something that could be examined by the European Commission.
An African High Commissioner welcomes the EU provision of capacity-building resources available for capacity building and climate resilience in small states. However there should be more collaboration on technology and research innovation. The Commonwealth is in a unique position to provide technical resources. There is a need to identify new trade products and cut red tape for trade with the EU, particularly reducing transport costs.
A Caribbean High Commissioner says that sustainably harnessing the blue economy is crucial; for Caribbean nations the size of their ocean territories is many times larger than that on land. Sustainable ocean resources can drive economic growth. A Pacific High Commissioner adds that they are pleased the EU has organised a conference on sustainable oceans. They are concerned about the increasing amount of plastic in the ocean, and also note that having overfished their surrounding ocean territories, the EU now imports significant amounts of fish from Pacific nations. Mr Kouyialis agrees, noting that island state economies are dependent on a healthy marine environment. Protection must be the first priority, followed by how to utilise these resources. The EU could provide joint-funding for Commonwealth projects in this area. The EU is to spend half a billion euros on protecting oceans, particularly ending plastic contamination and dumping; many Commonwealth countries may have access to these funds.
A Pacific island High Commissioner expresses concern about the potential for post-Brexit difficulties in marketing products separately to the UK and the EU. There is a concern that existing agreements on agricultural products will expire, with quota restrictions for ACP countries lower than current concessions. Mr Kouyialis suggests challenges can be
overcome, and that the EU-CAP is not exhaustive. The EU cannot produce everything and relies on imports; resource scarcities like water in Southern Europe will only increase the need for imported agricultural goods.
An African High Commissioner expresses concern about future humanitarian assistance from the EU, and suggests that EU should collaborate with the Commonwealth more closely on this to create effective relief systems. Mr Kouyialis says this is extremely important for Cyprus, noting that the EU Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Commissioner is Cypriot.