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Jamaica: Trade unions want EPA signing delayed

Jamaica Observer | August 27, 2008

Trade unions want EPA signing delayed

BALFORD HENRY, Observer writer

THE Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) says it will seek to delay the signing of the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), between CARIFORUM and the European Union, to allow for a review and possible renegotiation of the agreement.

The JCTU’s stand is in keeping with recommendations agreed to at last weekend’s meeting of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) in Barbados.

According to acting president of the confederation, Wayne Jones, there are specific areas of the EPA which the trade unions want reviewed, most importantly the most favoured nation (MFN) clause.

He said that while the movement acknowledged that preferential treatment was becoming outdated in trade, "as developing nations we need to be provided with some opportunities to prepare ourselves better to respond".

"I know the argument is going to be that we had five, six, seven years, whatever, to raise these issues, but that for us doesn’t make the case," Jones explained. "The fact of the matter is that we are presently not very prepared or as prepared as we would want to be to open up our markets to powerful trading blocs like the European Union."

He said that the trade unions were also concerned about the lack of a review provision in the agreement.

"Right now, as it is, it appears as though we are throwing out everything carte blanche to the Europeans. There is no provision in the agreement for us to get back around the bargaining table in six, 12 or 18 months... whatever it is, and review the performance," he said.

"As it now stands if the EPA, as is, is signed and it does not perform in the best interest of the Caribbean and the Jamaican people, we have no recourse. And we are saying that is not fair to us. We need to have a system where we can sit down and review it," he added.

He said in addition to the unions’ concerns, the majority of people in the Caribbean still did not understand the provisions of the EPA. He suggested that regional governments should seek to educate the people on what it means.

"We are not outrightly opposed to an economic partnership agreement. It is part of what the world requires now for you to exist. But we are saying that it must be done properly and it must be done in the interest of the people of the Caribbean and not just the big companies in Europe," he stated.

Jones said that the JCTU is constantly reviewing the issue and that the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute and the JCTU will be jointly hosting discussions at Mona on the agreement tomorrow.

Among the recommendations agreed to last weekend by the CCL are consideration to limit the obligations to the requirements of World Trade Organisation compatibility and the maintenance of existing levels of market access to the European Union; insert protocols on the principal CARIFORUM productive sectors, providing for the identification of legally-binding bilateral co-operation measures under the agreement; insert legally-binding development bench-marks to measure socio-economic impact of the EPA on key sectors of the economies and key segments of the society, including workers; and provide for a mandatory review within three years of signing.

 source: Jamaica Observer