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Sept 2 signing of EPA now uncertain

Jamaica Observer | Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sept 2 signing of EPA now uncertain

Observer Caribbean correspondent

THERE are new uncertainties surrounding the proposed signing of the full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) on September 2 between the European Union (EU) and CARIFORUM - the Caribbean Community (Caricom) member states and the Dominican Republic.

Having been postponed twice, an agreement for a signing ceremony was reached last week for the European Commission - the executive arm of the 27-member EU - to press ahead with the signing arrangements to be held in Barbados.

But a report leaked to the Inter-Press Service News Agency (IPS) and released from Paris on Sunday quoted an internal EC document, dated July 17, revealing that "translating and legally verifying the language of the interim EPAs is proving more burdensome and time-consuming than originally foreseen".

It was the IPS that originally reported on July 7 that an advisory document mandated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and critical of the EPAs negotiated for African states, as being ’anti-development’ in core provisions.

That document for Sarkozy, which was authored by French parliamentarian Christiane Taubira, had drawn a noncommittal response from the European Commission to media inquires.

Now, anxious about the real possibility that African nations of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group may use the anticipated delay over translated and authenticated texts to press for reviews of negotiated provisions in their interim EPAs, the EC top brass are now in a rush to prevent ’changing of minds’ by proposing deferral of the translation process.

The EC strategy document, quoted by IPS, urged the respective parties "to move away from the traditional way of establishing authentic texts in all official languages at the time of signature while agreeing to adopt them at a later stage."

Said the document: "The Commission has estimated that if we follow the generally accepted approach prior to signature, the process could well take us past Easter 2009. Such delays would have repercussions regarding the World Trade Organisation (WTO) notification and legal security."

Yesterday, one Brussels-based Caricom ambassador said it was highly unlikely that EU nations would be rushed into signing any EPA unless satisfied with the authenticated translation of the thousands of pages of the accord in the 23 working languages of the EU.

Meanwhile, legal experts have warned Caricom to move with extreme caution and not rush to sign the EPA as initialled last December, without ensuring official acceptance of authenticated translation of the text of the accord as this could create serious problems for interpretation and honouring of legal obligations.

Most of Caricom states have signalled their commitment to signing the EPA, but there are still reservations and even divisions over aspects of trade and development segments of the accord.

Regional non-government organisations (NGOs), including the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) and the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) have been among groups that have urged regional governments to carefully review the provisions of the EPA, even if it requires a delay for its signing.

 source: Jamaica Observer