One of the best kept secrets on today's international scene involves the members of the European Community (EC) and 58 other countries. It is the so-called Lome II agreement, which goes into effect next month. Though it has been given scant attention in the media elsewhere, the new agreement represents steps of progress and innovation in trade and aid that deserve notice both in themselves and as possible examples for other countries.
To be sure, there has been enough controversy over specific measures to threaten breakdown of the process of setting up acceptable relationships between the EC and the ACP -- meaning the 58 African, Caribbean, and Pacific developing countries concerned. The success of Lome II will depend on how well all parties utilize the compromise measures that finally led to the signing in Togo last October.
But the concept and thrust of the results are in the right direction to meet the problems of interaction between industrialized and third-world countries as global interdependence is seen as an idea whose time has come. Fundamental to Lome II is an integration of trade and aid to enhance the benefits of both.
Looked at from the outside, this integration is regarded by US officials, for example, as a useful approach worth developing further in US trade and aid where some efforts at integration are already being made. The US also welcomes the fact that Lome II does not contain the "reverse preference" provisions that the US considered a disadvantage in the original Lome convention of 1975. Under these, EC countries were given tariff breaks on their exports to ACP countries in exchange for reduced EC duties on imports from the ACP countries.
Again, looked at from the outside, Lome II prompts developing countries not part of the ACP to want to get in on the action. Until such a day, the ACP 58 and the EC have mutual advantages in such matters as investment and development of minerals and energy. The five-year agreement includes some $7.5 billion in aid for the ACP countries. Under the "Stabex" system, exporters of certain commodities receive partial compensation when prices go down. There is also assistance for industrialization and rural modernization.
For some ACP countries Lome II may not make an immediate practical difference. Trade between the EC and ACP is more or less in balance -- though it accounts for 40 percent of ACP trade and only 7 percent of EC trade.
The reason Lome II should not be kept a secret is the need for more of the cooperative relationships for the good of all toward which it so significantly aspires.