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EPA official dismisses claims of feet dragging

Antigua Observer

EPA official dismisses claims of feet dragging

By Carol Williams

6 July 2012

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – A top official in charge of Antigua & Barbuda’s implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) has struck aside charges that the state has been dragging its feet on giving effect to the pact signed in 2008 with the European Union (EU).

Rather, co-ordinator of the EPA Implementation Unit Barbara Williams said, “good progress” has been made, though the country continues to operate on an outdated tariff structure.

The two-island state was among eight from within the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) that were recently identified by the EU as having failed to cut import duties for products coming from Europe in accordance with the comprehensive framework for trade between the two regions. Another was Jamaica.

Williams admitted that the country’s current tariff structure has caused the delay; however she said the country has made some necessary legislative changes.

“We operate on the Harmonised System of Classification of Goods (HS),” she explained.

“Every four years the HS changes. Right now Antigua & Barbuda is on the 1996 version of the HS.

“We did not, for whatever reason, progressively move in the agreed timelines with the HS between 1996 and 2007.”

The first tariff cut was due to take effect January 1, 2011, with the second scheduled for January 1, 2013.

However, according to Williams, because the tariff was negotiated on the 2007 system, “we can’t vet the accuracy especially of the rate of duty applied on each tariff line against the 1996 version and that has been the delay in the case of Antigua & Barbuda.”

According to the 2012 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, government is projected to earn some $86.5 million from import duties this year, nine million dollars less than it did in 2011.

If the duties are removed for EU products it will mean less revenue for the state.

The EPA co-ordinator said the unit intends to approach the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) soon to seek funding for a study to assess the revenue that will be lost to the EPA tariff cuts.

“We have had discussions with the minister on the terms of the consultancy which he has agreed to and so we are now in the process of having discussions with the CDB which finances the operations of the unit to execute the consultancy, probably within the next month or two,” she said.

The results of that study could be ready in time for the presentation of the 2013 budget.