Jamaica Gleaner News | July 16, 2006
Commentary - Caribbean frustrated with Europe
David Jessop, Contributor
DEVELOPMENT IS a word much loved by European politicians. It connects them to voters in a feel-good manner that embraces NGOs, rock stars and youth culture. Its populism has become a part of the vocabulary of political positioning and the arsenal of spin.
Development is very easy to talk about but hard to deliver; failure to do so for the most part goes unrecognised in Europe and as such has little immediate domestic political cost.
In contrast, in the Caribbean and many other parts of the world, failure by developed nations to deliver on the rhetoric of development touches people’s lives and affects electoral politics. It is about real issues, requires delivery and a long-term focus and is expensive if it is to provide a better life for millions of people.
In the middle of this sensitive and potentially confrontational dichotomy lies trade, its liberalisation and its far from certain relationship with development.
For politicians in the developed world, the easy and vastly over-simplified message is that by freeing trade and ending preference, economic growth and development will occur, and less developed nations will escape from poverty.
The trouble is that achieving freer trade with a single market and economy that is still under construction requires practical support.
LEVEL OF CONFRONTATION
That is why, to the incomprehension of some in Brussels, the relationship between the Caribbean and the European Commission has now reached the level of confrontation over the development orientation of economic partnership agreements (EPAs).
Two weeks ago, at the CARICOM summit in St. Kitts, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, made clear the region’s concern that a previously common perspective on development was no longer reflected in the positions being taken by European officials in the third and detailed phase of the negotiations. Even the commitments made during phase two had not, she said, materialised. Europe’s position implies that " significant market opening commitments should be undertaken by Cariforum while the EC has made no commitment to providing additional resources for market building," she told her political colleagues.
These concerns had been spelt out in late June to the EU/ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna. Then Dame Billie Miller, Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, in a frank speech, set out in detail the nature of the crisis facing the Caribbean and other parts of the ACP over the development dimension of EPAs.
Dame Billie pulled no punches. With great clarity, she described the nature of the differences as well as the areas of convergence between EC and ACP negotiators. With justification, she questioned the statements made by Europe’s commissioners, the lack of action and their apparent absence of political will, challenging them directly to give real meaning to their words on development.
Her remarks made clear in practical terms the yawning gulf between rhetoric and reality. They should be mandatory reading in all European capitals and in the Caribbean.
It is said that Peter Mandelson, the EC’s Trade Commissioner is ’very angry’ at all of this. Senior European officials personalise his feelings, but miss the point that the public remarks by Prime Minister Simpson Miller, Prime Minister Arthur, Dame Billie Miller and other senior figures are not negotiating tactics but hide a real frustration and a sense of betrayal.
In private, Caribbean leaders and others at the highest levels of the trade negotiations speak even more bluntly about the failure of Europe to meet its promises in an economic transformation process in which they believe and are taking great political risks to deliver.
In Europe, officials are clearly concerned that time is running out. They point to the fact that the World Trade Organisation’s waiver on the preferential trade aspects of the Cotonou Conven-tion expires at the end of December 2007. They note that within the commission there is growing uncertainty as to how difficult it may or may not be to obtain a waiver for an EPA given that many Latin nations in particular are seeking parity in their trade relationship with Europe. They are also concerned about how to bridge the legal gap between any delay in finalising a Caribbean EPA, the expiry of the present waiver on the Cotonou Convention and achieving WTO agreement on a new arrangement.
But, more immediately, European negotiators recognise that if movement is to be achieved on a Caribbean EPA then the time has come to recognise in practical terms that Europe must offer more.
While the detail of a change of approach is not yet clear, it is likely to focus on a number of areas. It appears that the Trade Directorate has recognised that it has no option other than to become involved in obtaining the financing for the development components of an EPA. Despite the huge problems associated with Europe’s diminishing budget, high-level consideration is now being given as to how additional money may be leveraged for EPAs.
POLITICAL INITIATIVE NEEDED
Secondly, it is recognised that there is the need for a political initiative involving much improved private dialogue with key Caribbean political figures associated with the trade negotiations so as to determine the best way forward. And, thirdly, there may be rapidly deliverable EPA-related-negotiating concessions in respect of trade involving bananas and possibly in other areas including sugar.
European officials also argue, with some justification, that the Caribbean also has more to do to deliver an EPA and is not a blameless bystander. They want the region to indicate rapidly the configuration of states that will participate in a Caribbean EPA and to recognise that commitments the EC will make cannot be open ended. They are looking for a clearer understanding by all that an EPA is a transitional process towards full integration of the regional economy with that of the rest of the world.
In a little over a week, from July 25-28, the fourth technical negotiating session for a Cariforum - Europe EPA will take place in Kingston, Jamaica. There, officials from Europe and the region will continue to consider in detail the future shape of the trade relationship between the two regions.
While they are not about development per se, the outcome will determine whether development can be restored to the heart of a regional economic partnership agreement. If it is not, the arrangement could well set the scene for the grim REPA that Jamaica’s Foreign Minister, Anthony Hylton, once so famously described.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org