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Saga of deal with Europe

Jamaica Observer | 13 July 2008


Will there be a signing ceremony, either in Bridgetown or Brussels, by this or next month end, of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) concluded last December in Barbados, between representatives of the European Union (EU) and the CARIFORUM group of countries (Caricom plus Dominican Republic?)


While the majority of Caricom governments (including Jamaica) have signalled readiness to sign on the EPA, reservations remain strong enough, as voiced by Guyana in particular, to have frustrated a "Declaration on the EPA" at the recently-concluded 29th heads of government conference.

Conflicting signals keep coming out of Brussels, headquarters of the European Commission (administrative arm of the EU), whose Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, must now contend with the implications of a report, commissioned by France’s President Nicolas Sarkosy, in his capacity as current chairman of the 27-member European Union.

The European Parliament is expected to meet later this week for consideration and possible ratification of the EPA initialled with Cariforum. However, doubts have arisen about the timing of such an endorsement before President Sarkozy has had the opportunity to first discuss with his European counterparts the report he mandated on the EPAs involving the 78-member African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries.

The 191-page report, significant aspects of which have been leaked to the pro-Third World Inter-Press Service (IPS), is quite critical of the interim EPAs, with a particular focus on Africa.

Presented to President Sarkozy around the middle of last month, the European Commission has come in for strident criticisms for its manoeuvres to secure EPAs with an "anti-development" bias that could, in the long term, prove quite harmful to the social and economic development of the already poor and disadvantaged economies.

Since the Caribbean was the first to complete negotiations for a comprehensive EPA, it is felt that Caricom leaders may wish to benefit from the findings and recommendations of the authorised French Report that have implications also for this region, and therefore merit consideration prior to finalising signing arrangements - not later than August 30 this year.

Reports from Brussels of a recent meeting involving officials of the European Commission, representatives of European corporate interests and non-government organisations, among others, have suggested that the EC top brass had resorted to pressure tactics, by using the comprehensive EPA with CARIFORUM to gain leverage for signing EPAs with ACP countries in Africa and the Pacific.


Sticking points that have provoked concerns and also alluded to in the French report, include EPA provisions dealing with More Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment; the development dimension of the accord and procedural issues relating to approval of travel visas that could negatively impact on free movement non-Europeans in EU member states.

Authored by French parliamentarian Christiane Taubira, the report is expected to be discussed later this month by the French president with his EU counterparts, among which already exist some sharp differences following Ireland’s rejection at a referendum last month of the Rome Treaty governing the EU. In their eight-line reference to the EPA, provisionally initialled last December between representatives of the EU and CARIFORUM, Community leaders said in their 18-page communique:

"Heads of Government reviewed the process towards signature of the CARIFORUM-EC Partnership Agreement, to which several of them expressed readiness to sign. Tjey also considered possible implications of some provisions of the Agreement, particularly for the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) of Caricom..."

No explanation was offered about the "considered implications" for LDCs. But Guyana, which has been arguing for more time to reflect on contentious provisions of the EPA, went on record against any commitment to sign before planned national consultations, expected to begin by late this month.

Those ready to sign, as desired by the EU either by July 30 or a month later, include Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

For his part, the Guyana President (Bharrat Jagdeo) said that considering that signing the EPA was a matter between individual member states of CARIFORUM and the EU, he wished to exercise the right to delay placing his signature on the document in its present form. To do so now, he said, would be "to forfeit our economic sovereignty..."


Incidentally, significantly absent from the Caricom’s Antigua summit - an annual event for which it normally has a presence for consultations, was the Dominican Republic, which is said to be anxious to sign on to the EPA - although negotiations for a bilateral trade agreement with Caricom was never concluded.

Since disclosure of aspects of the French report on the EPA, there have been a flurry of e-mail exchanges among leading regional scholars, technocrats and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and their counterparts in European capitals.

Concerns of regional NGOs, represented by the Barbados-based Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), as well as by Sir Shridath Ramphal, who led the West Indian Commission and later became the first Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery CRNM), were reflected in separate communication with Caricom leaders ahead of conclusion of their summit last week in Antigua.

The pleas included time for more considered review and consultation within the region as well as with African and Pacific partners of the ACP group.

Aspects of the report prepared for EU President Sarkozy, are similar to some of the arguments advanced much earlier by leading regional critics of the EPA, including Professors Norman Girvan and Havelock Brewster, as well as by officials of the NGO network.

Strongly critical of the approaches adopted by the European Commission in negotiating EPAs, the French report argues in favour of a rethink for greater emphasis on social and economic development.

This position happens to coincide with arguments earlier advanced in this region by, for example, the Caribbean Congress of Labour and the CPDC.

Of particular relevance at this time of widespread concerns over rising costs of fuel and food imports that contribute to severe cost of living hardships, is the observation in the report that the EU should "recognise the right of poor countries to feed themselves by allowing them to exclude agriculture goods from trade liberalisation".

Also of importance to note is a suggestion in the report that negotiations with African countries of the ACP group could continue as long as into 2009. Such a view will resonate with those within Caricom arguing against a rush to sign the EPA negotiated with the EU.

Further, the report proposes that "new issues of investment, competition policy and public procurement should be removed from the (EPAs) agenda", and criticises the "pressure tactics of paternalism and threats employed by the (European) Commission to impose its point of view and its interests...."

In the circumstances, therefore, will Caricom governments seek to familiarise themselves with the French report on EPAs and also closely monitor the results of the coming meeting of the European Parliament to consider in particular Caricom-EU agreement before what their critics view as "the rush to sign"?

 source: Jamaica Observer