Antigua Sun, Antigua
Expert calls for establishment of services coalition
20 November 2008
by Aarati Jagdeo
As the Economic Partnership Agreement “EPA Implementation Brainstorming Meeting”, continued yesterday, it was made clear that Antigua and Barbuda needed to establish a “services coalition”.
The view was expressed by Ramesh Chaitoo, head of the Services Trade Unit for the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM).
Chaitoo stated that such a coalition would have various responsibilities including mapping the services industry and taking inventory of the services sector on the island.
Chaitoo stated that this coalition would help facilitate a smooth implementation of the EPA because the information gathered, would be used to help decide which parts of the EPA would get particular focus.
The optimal result of such an exercise would be the tailoring of the EPA to Antigua and Barbuda’s specific needs and goals.
Chaitoo also helped to clear up certain questions people had about the nation’s obligations under the EPA.
For example, Chaitoo stated that the EPA does not take away the country’s right to regulate nor does it put restrictions on the country’s ability to place visa restrictions where it sees fit.
Chaitoo also stated his position on the establishment of a separate unit with the responsibility of dealing with the EPA implementation.
The unit, announced by Cabinet on 21 Oct., and which would be referred to as the EPA Co-ordination Implementation Unit (CIU), was, according to Chaitoo, a necessary endeavour.
According to Chaitoo, the EPA is a dense, technical document, and to implement it satisfactorily, would require the unadulterated focus of a set of individuals, dedicated to organising, manoeuvring and establishing the EPA requirements.
During the session, some of the restrictions being kept by Antigua were revealed, including work-permit requirements for non-nationals, labour market/economic needs tests to see if any locals can provide the service before engaging a European, and local certification requirements for accountants, auditors and bookkeepers before they can open an office on the island.
One specific detail revealed by Chaitoo was that the EPA grants Europeans, “full access maritime transport trade services”.
Chaitoo stated that this could, in fact, prove to be very beneficial for Antigua and Barbuda.
Chaitoo also said that Antigua and Barbuda needed to beef up its competition laws in order to meet its obligations under the EPA.
While the EPA condemns predatory pricing and discriminatory pricing practices, Chaitoo stated that these regulations would be more efficient if they were in harmony with existing regulations in local legislature.
Ideally, EPAs are supposed to promote sustainable development, poverty reduction and regional integration, in an effort to extricate African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states from the third world and integrate them into the global economy.
The Cariforum-EU EPA is the same agreement but on a smaller scale involving the European Union and the Caribbean member states that make up Cariforum.
Under the Cariforum-EU EPA, trade between the two parties would occur within the constraints set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), whereby trade would be liberalised and trade preferences that Cariforum has been given in the past would be eliminated.