Deadline drawing near ... for negotiations in Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe

The Barbados Advocate, Barbados

Deadline drawing near ... for negotiations in Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe

By Shawn Cumberbatch

12 June 2007

Barbados and other developing countries negotiating an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe are -struggling- to meet the year-end deadline.

However, Minister of Foreign Trade, Senior Minister Dame Billie Miller, said the hope was that the countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping would be ready by the time the next Ministerial on the subject is held in Barbados in September.

Dame Billie, who also holds the Foreign Affairs portfolio, said if the September or December completion dates came and the small countries were not ready, she hoped a grace period of as much as a couple months would be allowed.

She was speaking yesterday at the opening ceremony of a four-week Certificate in International Trade Policy at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.

The new EPA will replace the current Cotonou accord, under which ACP countries have benefited from various preferential arrangements. Cotonou replaced the long-standing Lomé agreement when it was implemented.

- The EPA negotiations are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. It-s a tough deadline. The final Ministerial negotiating meeting is going to take place here in Barbados on the 26 and the 27 of September.

That is truly our deadline. By then you have to able to sign off on a number of things. When we signed on to Cotonou it took the Europeans 18 months to ratify ... because like us there are differing constitutions and the process is different in many countries. So it takes time and it will be perhaps a couple of years before you actually get into the new process,- the minister noted.

Dame Billie suggested if any country with the ACP partnership was seen to be struggling and would not be ready by December 31, -I really honestly do not believe that the other membership of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) would cut us off at the knees if we needed another few weeks or indeed another few months. And I thought I sensed a certain receptiveness of that at a high level, which shall remain nameless. So we are struggling to get there-.

Addressing the state of trade negotiations in the overall context, she said some individuals appeared to be leaning towards the region’s view that special and differential treatment was necessary.

- I do believe that there is now some appreciation that there has to be special and differential treatment for small and vulnerable economies. That is why we have to insist that it has to be at a pace so that we don-t trip. And you only get to do this once ; if you fall down it takes you 25 years to get back up,- she stated.

- So that developing countries are also seeking special and differential treatment, longer time frames to implement difficult commitments given our capacity and strengths. It really is critical for us that longer timeframes allow us to build capacity, not only in respect of our human resource based, but in many other respects as well,- she added.

Dame Billie said countries were -insisting also in respect of special and differential treatment that technical assistance is required in order for us to comply with difficult provisions. We also insist that there be flexibility in the negotiating process, wherever we negotiate, flexibility to assist our domestic industries under stress from trade liberalisation-.

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