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Caricom nations divided on EPA issue

Antigua Sun, Antigua

Caricom nations divided on EPA issue

3 July 2008

Caricom countries remain divided on the issue of the CARIFORUM-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The differences were made clear this week, as Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo used his speech at the opening of the 29th Meeting of the Caricom Heads of Government to make a strong argument for not signing the agreement in its current form.

Accusing the European Commission of “bully boy tactics,” Jagdeo said he would not sign the EPA until Guyana completes a full national consultation or, he added, “pragmatically earlier if the European Commission continues with its bully boy tactics of seeking to impose tariffs on our exports.”

Jagdeo said the bilateral nature of the relationship between the CARIFORUM countries and the EU, as defined in the EPA, has the potential to put Caricom countries at odds as they compete against one another.

He suggested this would run counter to Caricom’s efforts toward bringing the region closer together.

The controversial EPA is one topic being discussed by the Caricom leaders during this week’s meeting. It has drawn strong regional criticism from trade experts and from indigenous industries which claim that it is heavily weighted in benefit of the EU and against the CARIFORUM countries.

While Jagdeo is cautious, Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago Patrick Manning is ready to add his signature to the dotted line.

He told reporters following a business session of the conference yesterday that he was ready to sign today.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Finance Dr. Errol Cort meantime recently expressed resignation to the agreement as it currently stands and commented that negotiators had done their best, Jagdeo argued for a renegotiation of the agreement, saying that the Caribbean should argue for preferential treatment.

“The USA, the largest country in the world, sees it fit to subsidise its agricultural sector... The EU in the EPA negotiations with us, insisted that the sugar industry in Guadeloupe and Martinique must be protected, yet when it comes to our sugar industry, they have a different view.

"Sometimes I feel it boils down to the whole question of philosophy. We are seduced by the rhetoric of free trade, rhetoric which is not practised in the developed part of the world. We have to differentiate in this region between rhetoric and practice and I do not feel ashamed in any way whatsoever to argue strongly for preferences for this region,” the president said.

Referencing Antigua and Barbuda’s battle with the US at the WTO, and America’s failure to comply with the WTO’s rulings, Jagdeo pointed out that “sometimes the rules-based system does not apply when you are large.”

Jagdeo said the region should do only what is required to make the EPA World Trade Organisation compatible as agreed to in the Cotonou agreement and should make the EPA a goods-only agreement.

He also suggested the region should try to forge solidarity with other ACP countries, including those that have signed interim EPAs and want to renegotiate some parts of the agreement.