Your Excellency, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Honourable Ministers, Ambassadors, Dear friends,
It gives me great pleasure to see us all gathered here for the first Article 8 Political Dialogue in two years between the European Union and the Kingdom of Lesotho. It honours us to have the participation of 9 Ministers as well as of 9 EU Member States Embassies, 4 of which are represented at the ambassadorial level. This is an unprecedented participation and testimony to the strength of our relationship.
We have all gone through a very difficult year. A year of anxiety, of loss, of isolation, and of transformation. A year that has shown us how precarious our societies and our economies are in the face of unexpected challenges, but also a year that has shown our resilience, and in particular, a year that has shown the importance of international cooperation. The European Union as a champion of multilateralism is keenly aware that not only a pandemic, but other major challenges – climate change, the defence of democratic values and human rights, the preservation of a rules-based global trading and security system, the fight against poverty and inequality – can only be resolved in a collective and cooperative way. The European Union needs international partners to address these challenges, and the Article 8 Political Dialogue is a way of discussing common interests and concerns in a comprehensive way.
Of course, we have an ongoing dialogue with our friends from government, parliament, civil society, and the business community, but the Article 8 Dialogue stands out because it is bigger in format, as the participation today clearly demonstrates. It looks at the big picture, rather than indulging in detailed issues of our cooperation, and because it has bigger ambitions, as it aims at "commitments on both sides", as the Cotonou agreement spells out.
We have therefore come together today for a comprehensive discussion on the national reforms in Lesotho, on regional political issues of relevance in southern Africa including regional integration, on issues of trade between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the European Union, in particular in the context of the Economic Partnership Agreement, and on socio-economic recovery as we gradually emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic and on humanitarian assistance necessitated by the damage caused by the recent heavy rains.
In these trying times, the European Union needs friends in the international community, and Lesotho needs friends. We look back to several decades of fruitful cooperation and we have come together for a friendly and frank discussion on these issues.
But before we go there, let me briefly mention two pieces of good news, one international and one bilateral:
First, the successor-agreement to Cotonou has been initialled last week by the chief negotiators, Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, and Togo’s Foreign Minister Professor Robert Dussey. We therefore now have an agreed text for a comprehensive agreement between the European Union and its 27 Member States on one side, and 79 countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific region on the other. We expect that the agreement will be signed and ratified later in the year.
And second, MG Health, formerly Medigrow, has been found compliant with the EU's Good Manufacturing Practice and Lesotho has therefore become the first African country to win permission to legally export medical Cannabis to the European Union. This is a small but important step towards diversification of exports beyond what has hitherto been a narrow area of exports of minerals, namely raw diamonds, which accounted for almost the totality of export value from Lesotho to the EU.
Against this background of promising perspectives, let us now engage in our discussions.