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OECS trade ministers discuss European trade

Caribbean Net News, Cayman Islands

OECS trade ministers discuss European trade

18 July 2007

CASTRIES, St. Lucia: OECS Trade Ministers accommodated the European Commission’s principal negotiator for the Economic Partnership Agreement, Karl Falkenburg on Wednesday.

The Trade Ministers held extensive talks with the European Commission official on the process towards a free trade arrangement called the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The European Commission’s chief negotiator for the EPA thinks all players saw the need to bring closure to the negotiations before the implementation of the agreement in 2008: “I think we had very open detailed discussion about the negotiations. I think we both agreed on the need to bring the negotiations to a conclusion within the time frames envisaged, that is by the end of this year. We noted that substantive progress had been achieved and we urgently need to address the market access issues that are outstanding. I hope that the discussion clarifies that we had realistic approaches that could take into account the regional differences that exist among the different participants in this CARIFORUM negotiations.”

Falkenburg says he will welcome further dialogue with the OECS Ministers. He also notes that the current negotiations must apply flexibility to ensure that substantive positions are considered: “The illustration of how we would think market access issues could be dealt with is a very flexible and very reasonable one. We accept that there can be differences between individual countries on the CARIFORUM side but we do think it will also be important to define a road map that at least over time will lead to the target of establishing a single economy and market in the CARIFORUM as a major vehicle to creating more prosperity and more economic growth.”

Chairman of the OECS Ministers of Trade Anthony Boatswain of Grenada said the meeting with the EU is to help ensure that the concerns of the OECS are looked at in the context of the negotiations: “From their perspective it is imperative that we complete the negotiations on time. From our perspective we are saying yes they need to complete but let us hasten slowly because it is better not to have an arrangement than to have a bad agreement at the end which we will regret. However we are working towards that objective. They have a time frame for the ushering in of this new trading relationship. They are the ones calling the shots and they could say: ’You have not completed the negotiations. It is an open system now and we will be giving you the same treatment as we give other developing countries.’ We are saying yes we want to complete the negotiations but one has to be sure that we have certain protection even at the end of these negotiations.”

The recent dialogue between the OECS Trade Minister’s and The European Commission’s Chief EPA negotiator is acknowledged as a clear indication of the urgency and importance of addressing the OECS concerns in a way that facilitates the effective and positive conclusion of the EPA negotiations.

“We want to know what kind of assistance will come to us to safeguard our vulnerable economies once we make that transition from a preference to preference-free environment and that is extremely importance to us. Both sides were frank. It was not only an issue of the EPA but we also looked at bananas and some concerns raised by other countries in terms of access to new markets,” said Boatswain.