Jamaica Observer | Sunday, October 05, 2008
Europe’s ploys to secure EPA signing coming to light
by Sir Ronald Sanders
The many ploys that the European Commission (EC) has used to bulldoze Caribbean countries into signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) are coming to light.
One of the most glaring is a statement by an official of the EC who publicly stated that the Caribbean’s preferential access to the EU market would end on October 31, 2008 and therefore the EPA had to be signed by then.
This turns out to be completely untrue. Indeed, the regulation has no expiry date.
The following is an official exchange between a member of the European Parliament, David Martin, and the EC:
"Question: With reference to the statement by the First Secretary of the Commission office in Jamaica, as reported in the Jamaica Gleaner on August 29, can the commission confirm that the Regulation governing the preferential access to the EU market for Cariforum countries will not expire but that a decision would be needed by the council before the regulation could be withdrawn?
Answer from commission: The commission can confirm that Council Regulation 1528/2007 OJ L 348, 31.12.2007 has no expiry date and can only be repealed by a Council Decision".
So much for the urgency of Caribbean countries to sign the EPA on October 15th; in reality, the signing could have awaited the conclusion of the Summit of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) in Ghana on October 2-3 where a thorough discussion of the EPA could have occurred and a consensus reached.
It has already been firmly established that the major gambit that the EC used to scare some Caribbean governments into authorising the initialling of the EPA last December, that is, the requirement to impose the GSP (or higher tariffs) on crucial Caribbean exports, was also false. Had the EC wanted, more time could have been agreed for further negotiations on the EPA.
Again, the reality is that because the EC was negotiating with the Caribbean but had their eyes firmly fixed on Africa and its vast resources, they wanted a full EPA wrapped-up quickly with the Caribbean so that they could use it as a yardstick and a stick over the backs of the Africans.
In this respect, we in the Caribbean let down Africa who had stood steadfastly with us throughout the previous negotiations with the EU under the Lome and Cotonou treaties. Indeed, were it not for African insistence, Caribbean rum would never have enjoyed the preferences in the EU market that it did, and still does. Africa had insisted on the rum preferences in solidarity with the Caribbean.
This makes it all the more sad that only one Caribbean head of government, the president of Suriname, went to Ghana for the ACP Summit. The Caribbean treated solidarity with its African and Pacific partners in the developing world as less important than its relations with its former overlords in Europe.
There will be those who may describe my last paragraph as either "racist" or "anachronistic", harking back to a colonial period now past. It is neither. Instead, it is a recognition that the architecture of the international political economy resides firmly in the control of the large, industrialised nations notwithstanding the recent economic growth of China, India and Brazil, and that small countries, like those in the Caribbean, will see no advantageous change in the architecture unless they join other countries of the South in a common effort.
If it is that Caribbean governments have chosen to eschew their African and Pacific partners and to put their faith in the EU in the belief that the EPA really is a virtuous agreement, one has to hope that history proves them right or there will be a high price to pay.
As it is, in the official and ministerial meetings that preceded the ACP Summit in Ghana, the Caribbean did not have a happy time. Reports indicate that, in the corridors, delegates complained bitterly about the Caribbean’s decision, apart from Guyana, to sign the full EPA and the region’s "inflexibility" during the meetings. There were several clashes between one Caribbean delegate, who stoutly defended the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause in the EPA, and the representative of South Africa and others.
The MFN clause has been a source of contention in the Caribbean itself. Many experts have argued that because EU will be able to demand accelerated tariff liberalisation from the Caribbean, a possible consequence of trade agreements we make with other large developed or developing economies, exposes Caribbean Governments to the risk of:
losing revenues that will have to be replaced by direct taxes on their people;
undermining their efforts to promote South-South trade and strategic investment policies particularly with emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil;
losing remaining preferences in the EU market since the EU will have to extend the same preferences to other countries with which it settles trade agreements. Thus, existing preferences for bananas from Dominica, for instance, will be very short-lived.
Except for Guyana, all the other Caribbean countries have decided to sign the EPA and they have set October 15 to do so in Barbados. In a letter to the EC president, Jose Barroso, Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, made it clear that the Government is prepared to "sign onto the ’Trade in Goods’ Section of the Agreement thereby making it fully WTO-compatible, and to continue negotiations with the EC, on the other disciplines covered by the present initialled text, with the aim of achieving an agreement that would be more development oriented than the current one".
Guyana was also active at the ACP Summit. It was the only Caribbean country with a senior minister there. It may yet be possible for Guyana to sign the "goods only" agreement provided it gives the EU an undertaking to continue negotiations on the services and other issues in the EPA.
One thing is for sure — Caribbean governments are victims of enormous pressure and ploys by the EC. In the course of it, the bonds of the ACP have been broken rendering the group weak and irrelevant, and shattering the solidarity of developing nations at a time in the international community when they desperately need to stick together.