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Caribbean urged to renegotiate EPA

Antigua Sun, Antigua

Caribbean urged to renegotiate EPA

28 July 2008

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) - A former chief negotiator for the region said it is not too late for Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries to pull out of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe.

Sir Shridath Ramphal told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) last Wednesday that there were precedents Caribbean countries could follow and that the Europeans themselves were now examining the flaws in the trade deal.

“The Europeans do it all the time; they initial, they pause, they review, they come back, they regroup, they re-argue. What has happened to us that we have lost that capacity to manoeuvre? Why are we playing the European game?” asked the former head of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery.

Sir Shridath said that the rest of the developing world, in their negotiations with Europe, have decided to either initial an interim agreement or sign nothing at all. He also expressed concern that Caribbean countries have broken the solidarity that existed within the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states.

“What we have done is break ranks with those brothers who had stood by us in the bad days of Lomé and said we will sign up with the EU; now the EU is going around hitting these countries over their heads with the Caribbean signatures,” he said.

The former negotiator also accused Caribbean governments of caving in to pressure from Europe even though they knew they were not getting a good deal.

“Not a single Caribbean president or prime minister has put his hand on his heart and said this is good for me. They have all said, we know this is not good enough but we don’t think we could have done’s a bad agreement but it’s better than no agreement,” Sir Shridath said.

He warned that there would be serious implications for the Caribbean, noting that even though the EPA was negotiated with Europe, it would extend to trade relations with the rest of the world.

“Any trade agreement we conclude after this with any country or group of countries in the context of free trade they will demand, and we cannot deny, similar treatment to Europe. So we are concluding an agreement with the world and we’re concluding a bad agreement with the world,” he insisted.

Caricom leaders said at the end of their four-day summit in Antigua earlier this month that several countries had “expressed (a) readiness to sign” the EPA that was initialled last December following negotiations between the European Union and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries.

Caricom Chairman Baldwin Spencer said they had “fully debated” the agreement, taking “quite some time examining the pros and cons”.

“We recognise that there were issues involved, but I think in the final analysis, we were able to arrive at a position which seeks to ensure that the process continues and that Caricom will sign on the EPA with certain thoughts, in terms of ensuring that commitments will remain intact,” he said.

The regional leaders are expected to sign the agreement by 30 Aug.