Caricom wants ’special provisions’ for sugar, bananas

Jamaica Gleaner | April 11, 2007

Caricom wants ’special provisions’ for sugar, bananas

Regional negotiator Ambassador Richard Bernal said Tuesday that the exclusion of bananas from a European Union propsoal to cut duties from products it buys from the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region is to be raised at a meeting of trade ministers in Kingston this week.

The EU concession announced last week to remove all remaining quota and tariff restrictions on ACP products includes a phase-out period for rice and sugar, but does not mention bananas.

Sugar is already seen as a ’sunset’ industry within the Caribbean. What negotiators are seeking from the EU, under the European partnership negotiations, is assurances that it will provide development assistance and some level of protection for the sector while producers transition out of the industry or into value-added sectors like ethanol production.

Caricom also wants bananas on the list of products that have ’special consideration’, which essentially secures market in the EU.

But the region may not get the type of assurance it wants, given the new challenge by Ecuador and Colombia at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) demanding further reform of the revised EU banana regime implemented last year to replace the preferential scheme that favoured ACP producers.

Offer welcome, but...

Already, the Caribbean Media Corporation has reported concerns from Windward Island farmers that while the EU offer is a welcome move, it could result in their conceding already limited market share to more price-competitive Latin American producers.

Bernal says a duty-free, quota-free system for bananas "would not be good for the region."

Producers are concerned that non-tariff barriers, for example sanitary and phytosanitary conditions — that is, measures dealing with food safety, animal and plant health — could limit their access despite market openings.

"Are we in a position where our products are being produced at a competitive enough price? Do we have the quantities that are required? Are we able to meet the sanitary requirements of the EU?" asks president of the Windward Island Farmers’ Association (WINFA), Marcella Harris.

Trade ministers will move from a meeting with WTO chief Pascal Lamy in the morning Friday into afternoon talks on what conditions they will seek in the new agreement to be signed with the EU, as well as forward strategies under the European partnership agreement negotiations, and how hard to push in the talks on trade in services.

Lamy has been travelling to different regions as he pushes for the restart of the Doha Development round. He has called for greater flexibility and concessions on agricultural subsidies and tariffs.

Political will required

His last visit was to Mexico where he left the same message he is expected to bring to Jamaica - Doha is the WTO’s greatest challenge and will require strong political will to strike compromises on the sticky issues of subsidies and tariffs.

Trade ministers from the United States, the European Union, India and Brazil will meet in New Delhi Thursday, for the first time in more than eight months, in another attempt at negotiating a breakthrough in world trade talks. Without those concessions, a restart of the Doha Round would likely end in failure, given that decisions by the 150-member WTO must have consensus - one vote against any measure is sufficient to kill it.

Countries and regions, meantime, have been sealing bilateral trade deals. The new EU offer to the ACP essentially gives the bloc of developing countries similar market access as lesser-developed countries under the ’Everything but Arms’ treaty.

Bernal tells Wednesday Business that he considers the EU offer a good gesture. It covers all products, including agricultural goods, and is scheduled for implementation January 1, 2008.

source: Jamaica Gleaner