Caricom hopes to renegotiate EPA

CMC | Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Caricom hopes to renegotiate EPA

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries will sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe on September 2 as planned, but they are still hoping to renegotiate the deal afterwards, Caricom Chairman Baldwin Spencer has said.

Spencer, who is also the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told reporters that it is likely that the agreement hammered out last year between Europe and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) which includes Caricom and the Dominican Republic, would be signed by individual countries on that date.

"Quite frankly the EPA is between individual member states and the EU. It is not Caricom and the EU. It is the CARIFORUM countries in their individual capacities," said Spencer, who was here to address a dinner of the National Action Cultural Committee (NACC) Friday night.

"What we would really hope is that everybody will be on board," Spencer said, in keeping with Caricom’s desire to have a unified position regarding foreign affairs.

"It (united position) doesn’t always work, there are issues that have been raised not only by Guyana and Grenada, but by individuals in the Caribbean who are passionate about the Caribbean and its future.

"They have raised some issues and they feel the Caribbean countries ought not to sign because we haven’t had enough out of the deal. That is a question of judgement, it is a question of opinion, the question is to have to weight the advantages against the disadvantages.

"Do we put ourselves in a better position if we just say ’look we are not signing’; there are certain implications for that," Spencer told reporters.
He said that the Caribbean is saying "the opportunity presents itself even at the point of which we decide to sign to be able to continue the process of dialogue that will allow for adjustments and revisions to be made.

"Everything doesn’t kick in immediately, there is a transitional period so the opportunity does present itself. It is a difficult situation, difficult for all of us. We would have liked to be perhaps in a better position," he said.

Spencer said that over the years, the Caribbean had engaged Europe on the issue and "they were able to formulate a package which was felt under the circumstances would have been the best that we could have got, the question is should we walk away from that and say ’listen we are not bothering we are going to continue the negotiations’, now that has some implications".

He said there were "certain timeframes involved...and if you move from that position and you go to another position how would that affect certain member states of Caricom, including Guyana, in terms of its own sugar or what it has to trade with Europe and whatever preferential treatment there might have been in place.

"It is not an easy issue, it presents some real challenges for us and we are seeking to look at the option which says ’okay if you weigh the whole thing, if you refuse to sign what is the implication as against you signing’. In other words you are in there and you are now in a position to negotiate if you want to call it that, to look at those troubling areas that you would wish to see some adjustments made and the mechanisms in my view within the EPA allows for that to take place," Spencer said.

Last week, Guyana announced that it would begin public consultations on the EPA after it hosts the 10-day Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) which begins on August 22.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon said reports that Caricom countries would sign the EPA on September 2 would not affect Georgetown’s position to have the matter debated in public before an official position is announced.

Georgetown had previously said the consultations would be held by the end of July.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo has expressed reluctance to sign the EPA with the European Union, warning that the deal could be detrimental to Caricom and would allow for more benefits to go to Europe rather than to poor developing countries.

Jagdeo had also accused Europe of bullying regional countries into signing the accord.

Earlier, a Barbados government backbencher, James Paul, also accused regional stakeholders who brokered the EPA of failing their people by agreeing to a ’bad deal’.

Paul said that governments, intellectuals and trade unions in CARIFORUM countries gave in to Europe too easily.

"We were prepared to sit down and listen to the garbage coming out of Europe about free trade without really examining what they were doing," he told participants of a CARIFORUM-EU review meeting.

Spencer said that while the rest of the Caribbean countries were not ignoring the positions of Guyana and Grenada as a matter of fact, "we are seeking to make some representation at the level of President of the European Union.

"We are not just sitting back and saying well listen come September 2, we just have to sign come what may, what we are saying we are making certain manoeuvres in the meantime to see what can be done to create an environment in which we know that even if we sign in September we have an opportunity to revisit, re-adjust certain situations that are of concern to us," Spencer said.

Spencer said he would not disclose the ’situations’ the Caribbean countries want dealt with, adding hose would remain quiet for the time being.

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