The Cotonou Agreement between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU) has received much attention in the past years. Most of the time, this attention focuses on the economic dimensions of the Agreement, while forgetting that the co‐operation partnerships that the Agreement generates are meant to be centred on human rights and human development rather than on economic development per se. This article evaluates the human rights potential of the Cotonou Agreement and of the development co‐operation policies initiated between the ACP countries and the EU under this agreement. First, the article looks at the EU regulatory framework and the place of the Lomé Conventions in the human rights and trade debate, as well as in the generation of the Cotonou Agreement. Next, the article presents those elements of the Cotonou Agreement that reveal a potential for enhanced human rights realisation in the ACP countries. Through the Cotonou Agreement the participation and integration of the ACP countries in the global market economy is not only ‘footnoted’ with human rights rhetoric, but also infused with human rights principles and human development standards. Last, the shortcomings inherent in the Agreement are identified and assessed, and the implications of these shortcomings for the realisation of human rights and development are highlighted in the conclusions.