The European Union (EU) and Timor-Leste have a close and fruitful relationship governed by the Cotonou Agreement. This relationship is multifaceted and includes collaboration in the political, economic, trade and development areas. Our partnership makes us stronger and reinforces our capacities to deliver together in the fight against Covid-19, climate change, poverty and exclusion and to strengthen peace and security, democracy, human rights and multilateralism.

Political Relations

The EU / Timor-Leste relationship goes back to 1999. Since 2006, the two partners started working together more closely.

Timor-Leste signed up to the Cotonou Agreement in 2005. The Partnership Agreement comprises members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States - including Timor-Leste - and the EU and its Member States.

It focuses on three main areas:

  • Political cooperation.
  • Development cooperation.
  • Economic and trade cooperation.

As stipulated by the Cotonou Agreement, the EU and Timor-Leste hold regular Political Dialogue sessions, usually once per year. These dialogues allow the parties to review achievements and challenges under the partnership and to address issues of common interest.

The last session was held on 28 January 2021. Due to Covid-19, it was organised by video conference. The 2022 session is scheduled to take place in Dili.

The Cotonou Agreement started implementation in 2000 and had a duration of 20 years. Its successor agreement (negotiated text) has been initialled by all parties, including Timor-Leste, and will be signed in the second half of 2021. The new agreement will officially succeed the Cotonou Agreement once both sides complete their internal procedures for signature and conclusion.

It will shape the political and economic relations in various policy areas between the EU and the 79 ACP States for the next twenty years (2021 – 2041).

The new agreement goes beyond its predecessor in various fields and is a political achievement.

It is expected to be a game-changer by:

  • Allowing the partnership to become more political.
  • Redesigning and strengthening the EU’s bilateral relations with each region.
  • Raising the international ambitions as a group to achieve more together.

moving beyond the traditional development dimension focussing on key common interests and aspirations at local, national, regional and international levels.

Economic and Trade Relations

The Cotonou Partnership Agreement provides also the legal framework for the economic and trade relations between the EU and Timor-Leste. It aims to liberalise trade between both sides while enhancing development and development-finance.

The current trade relations between the EU and Timor-Leste are governed by the EU’s “Everything But Arms” initiative under which all imports to the EU from Least Developed Countries (LDC) like Timor-Leste are duty-free and quota-free, with the exception of armaments.

In view of Timor-Leste’s possible graduation from the LDC status by 2024, Timor-Leste is currently preparing its accession to the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and several Pacific Islands (Fiji, PNG, Somoa and Solomon Islands). Timor-Leste notified the European Commission on 15 October 2020 of its intent to accede to the Interim EPA, which is a WTO-compatible agreement with the overall objective to contribute through trade to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. It includes co-operation and assistance in areas such as sanitary norms and standards to help EPA countries benefit from the agreement and can be seen as a driver of change helping to kick-start reforms, contribute to good economic governance, attract investment and boost economic growth, diversification and job creation.

Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid

Technical and financial cooperation constitutes the main component of the Cotonou Agreement. It is broken down into implementation periods of 5-6 years. Each period is covered by a global financial envelope.

The one covering the period 2014 – 2020 was for a total amount of €95 million (equivalent to around USD 110 million) and focused mostly on Good Governance and Rural Development.

While programmes and projects under the 2014 – 2020 envelope are still under implementation, the new Multiannual Indicative Programme for 2021 – 2027 is currently in its final stage of approval. It will focus on Green and Sustainable Economic Recovery and Development (economic diversification, private sector and youth, regional integration and trade, green development with renewable energy and climate action) and on Good Governance (public sector management and reform, social inclusion and nutrition).

The design of new programmes under this new envelope will start in the second half of 2021.

Human Rights and Democracy

Human rights and democracy are the founding values and principles of the European Union. These values feature prominently in the cooperation and relations between the European Union and its partner countries.

Human rights and democracy are standing items on the agenda of the annual Political Dialogue described above.

They are also promoted through projects funded and implemented under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and through public diplomacy events.

The EU’s engagement in this area is done in line with the EU’s Global Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, on the basis of which the EU Delegation determines several key activities at the local level.

The current EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy runs from 2021 to 2024 and an annual report on its implementation with specific country chapters is regularly published.

Civil society dialogue

The Cotonou Agreement accords special importance to the vital role of civil society in the socio-economic development of partner countries. To this effect, the Agreement calls for the provision of special financial allocations in the National Indicative Programme of each ACP country for actions in support of Non-State Actors. For Timor-Leste, an amount of €4 million has been earmarked for such interventions under the 2014-2020 envelope.

Besides funding, the EU Delegation is also in regular dialogue with civil society organisations (CSOs). In 2020, the Delegation established a structured dialogue with CSOs holding regular meetings (at least 3 per year) to promote and improve mutual understanding and coordination. The focus of this dialogue is on governance, human rights, overall development cooperation and engagement with civil society. It informs the EU’s analysis and programming and contributes to the improvement of key documents and reports.

The EU Delegation applies an open door approach to CSOs; it wants to promote inclusiveness and provide a real chance to discuss relevant policy and implementation issues.

COVID-19 response

Over the years of 2020 and 2021, specific support to Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 response has been made available by the European Union.

More than €7 million – new funding and reallocations of existing funds - have been spent to support the Ministry of Health and NGOs to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Interventions range from surveillance and laboratory activities to capacity building of health workers in risk communication and clinical case management. PPEs and sanitary commodities, COVID-19 testing kits, reagents, hand washing units, information material; training of front line workers (such as the police and health personnel) have been financed and rehabilitation works done at the five referral hospitals in Timor-Leste to strengthen the response capacity across the country. The provision of food, hygienic kits and vouchers for at-risk families affected by the socioeconomic crisis, and support to the media to better cover COVID-19 related issues, were also included in the EU’s assistance.

Last but not least, Timor-Leste is benefitting significantly from the COVAX Vaccine Sharing Facility of which the EU is one of the biggest donors.

Cultural and Public Diplomacy

Public diplomacy has become an essential foreign policy tool to engage more and better with key target audiences and partners, increase their understanding of the European Union (and of its policies), build common ground and coalitions.

With our public diplomacy and strategic communication initiatives in Timor-Leste, we aim at developing durable and trusted channels of engagement with our key target audiences and partners and fostering networks that can support the achievement of shared priorities by involving youth, students, academics, influencers, multipliers, media, business, civil society and the cultural sector.

Please visit our social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to see more in detail.