Greater discussion needed with civil society on EPAs

Barbados Advocate, Barbados

Greater discussion needed with civil society on EPAs

By Nicholas Cox

17 May 2007

While the labour movement supports the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the Caribbean and the European Union (EU), there must be greater discussion with trade unions and civil society, and specially included treatment for women.

General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour, and member of the Non-State Actors Committee for the Carib- bean, George De Peana, made these suggestions while speaking at a press conference yesterday afternoon at the conclusion of the ninth Regional Seminar of ACP-EU Economic and Social Interest Groups.

Raising one of his main concerns, De Peana said, -The agreement is due to be signed by the end of this year, and the labour movement in particular, is still in the dark about what stage we-re at in relation to the negotiations. We do not wish to have a situation in which we are handed something at the last moment without any contribution to it, and asked to sign.- He believed that if this situation occurred, it would undermine the support that the movement has already given to the exercise. He therefore called for more dialogue and discussion with the non-state actors, and hoped that the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) would engage them in this request.

De Peana also expressed concern that the African region has fallen far behind in the inclusion of non-state actors, and called on the Caribbean to help other ACP regions in understanding and finalising their EPA negotiations. Moreover, he said, -The third concern, is that there seems to be a need for the EU offices in the region to be more approachable and more friendly to civil society and the non-state actors, because we are a legitimate factor in this whole exercise. And there is a perception that the offices and the officers are more concerned with governments.-

He hoped that this concern would be addressed upon the conclusion of the meeting, and noted that recognition from governments should not be based on political affiliation of non-state actors.

In relation to vulnerable groups, he said, -We also have a particular concern for the vulnerable in our societies, and would like to make special reference to women, whom we believe that by and large, are being left behind. And we will call for special consideration for training in trade to be desegregated, so that women can be looked at specially, especially those who are trading throughout the Caribbean in micro-exercises.-

Finally, De Peana said that his organisation would organise a meeting between labour leaders in the region in order bring about further discussions on the impact of the EPAs, and called for funding from the EU and the CRNM to facilitate this.

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