logo logo

Girvan: EPA bad deal for region

The Nation, Barbados

Girvan: EPA bad deal for region

4 April 2008

By Tracy Moore

The devil is in the detail.

That is how former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States, Professor Norman Girvan, has described the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union (EU) and CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM and Dominican Republic).

Contrary to former Prime Minister Owen Arthur’s recent view that the current EPA was "good enough" for Barbados and the region, Girvan said
it would lead to disintegration of CARICOM.

Arthur, delivering a lecture on March 11 on the same subject, said while some of the EPA’s provisions amounted to "works in progress", it was good enough to assist the region in building a post-colonial economy, and could help Barbados’ economic situation in trade and services.

However Girvan, speaking Wednesday night on The EPA And The CARICOM Single Market And Economy at the Mount Restaurant, University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus, called for the EPA signing to be postponed so it could be revised.

The EU, he stressed, would have the upper hand in this free trade agreement."It seems to me that CARICOM will have no chance but to adapt its own regimes to the requirements and compliances of the EPA.

"In fact, why go through all the trouble and expense of having CSME . . . [because] the policies, laws and practices would have been changed to suit the EPA. What really will be left of the CSME?" he queried.

"We would have surrendered our autonomy and policy-making in these areas to the requirements of the EPA compliance and with it much of
our ability to pursue a development path."

The EPA provides for nearly full reciprocal trade liberalisation over 25 years, the majority within 15 years, and considerable liberalisation in services and a host of other commitments in areas like intellectual property, investment and trade.

Girvan said while CARIFORUM states would receive market access for goods and services and the promise of development support, they would also face obstacles like "rules of origin, technical barriers to trade, and sanitary and phytosantiary standards", all of which, he added, needed fuller explanation for the smaller Caribbean countries, which were not as developed as Barbados.

"I have heard that the commitments made in these disciplines are commitments we would have been willing to make, in any case, to one another as part of the CSME.

"I am sorry, but this sounds suspiciously like an argument of convenience.

The very inclusion of these commitments responds to the EU’s own stated agenda for trade agreements and the details contain provisions that are obviously first for the Europeans," he said.

While Arthur noted that the EPA would set the benchmarks in negotiating "modern mature economic relationships", first with Canada and then the United States, Girvan argued that when this legally-binding and difficult-to-amend document was put in place, there would be limitations on CARIFORUM governments’ ability to change future policies in several areas, especially with the pending North America agreements.

The EPA signing is due at the end of June, with the signing ceremony more than likely taking place in Barbados.