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EPA harmful’ - Academics lobby for renegotiation of trade deal

Jamaica Gleaner

EPA harmful’ - Academics lobby for renegotiation of trade deal

5 March 2008

By John Myers Jr, Business Reporter

A group of academics, while stopping short of labelling the trade pact an outright failure, are proposing that Cariforum renegotiate the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), saying it gives up too much to the Europeans in exchange for too little.

Wednesday Business understands that the paper, penned by Havelock Brewster, Norman Girvan and Vaughan Lewis, has Caricom negotiators seeing red, and that a detailed but stinging response is being crafted to counter all 19 points of criticism.

Forecast displacement

The academics essentially accused the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) of striking a deal with "eyes wide shut" that will, in the end, leave the region poorer.

"It will evidently be politically difficult and economically risky to adopt a change in approach to the EPA at this stage," the men conclude. "Nonetheless, there may still be a window of opportunity as the agreement, though initialled, has not yet been signed ... ."

They forecast displacement of businesses and increased vulnerability of firms to takeover by big corporations, while criticising the development assistance component of €2.2 million per Cariforum country per year as inadequate.

Ambassador Richard Bernal, architect of the deal that Caricom heads of government are expected to sign off on in a matter of weeks, yesterday refused to comment on the development, saying the CRNM was crafting a detailed response to the February 27 paper.

Indeed, the authors of the paper suggest that Cariforum use "this window of opportunity" to head back to the table to negotiate a more favourable agreement.

WTO-plus areas

Two of the academics, Girvan and Brewster, are senior associates of the CRNM, whose opinions, according to Bernal, were included - though only in part - in the negotiating strategy from which the EPA emerged. Lewis is an expert in international relations at the University of the West Indies.

Beyond that comment, Bernal said he would not pre-empt the response being drafted by the CRNM secretariat which he heads.

The critics of the pact contend that it would have been more beneficial to member countries if the CRNM had negotiated an agreement compatible with World Trade Organisation rules, for now, and continue to iron out the more delicate provisions of the trade arrangement.

"Inclusion of WTO-plus areas in services, competition, public procurement and investment could be deferred pending WTO agreement in these areas, or at least pending completion of the relevant CSME regimes," the paper said.

The men also argue that the CSME arrangement was likely to be sidelined, as the EPA will take precedence over any agreement reached to merge regional economies.

"The WTO-plus commitments pre-empt and proscribe Cariforum governments’ policies in key areas of development policy (and) also pre-empt the pending CSME regimes in these areas," the men wrote.

Further, Girvan and his colleagues complain that the development component of the EPA has been sidelined in preference for trade and investment liberalisation.

"Economic Development Fund (EDF) funds are also notoriously slow in negotiation and disbursement, and the EC has signalled that the priority will be EPA implementation." the academics said in the paper now being circulated regionwide ahead of a meeting of heads of governments in the Bahamas this weekend. The paper was also critical of concessions on the free movement of professionals into Europe.

But Ambassador Bernal, Caricom’s chief negotiator said again yesterday that the pact was the best deal the region could have negotiated within the time frame available.

Outside an agreement by December 31, 2007, the region would have faced open competition in its trade arrangements with the European Union.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is the chairman of Caricom’s external affairs committee, has also dismissed these arguments, accusing those who have been denouncing the new trade pact as suffering from mendicancy - tied to the concessions and preferences that Europe has given countries like Jamaica. The heads of Cariforum are expected to affix their signatures to the EPA sometime in April.