Jamaica Gleaner | Sunday October 19, 2008
Two Caribbeans emerge at EPA signing
After months of argument and eleventh-hour confusion, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Europe and Cariforum was signed in Barbados on October 15.
Guyana did not attend but is believed likely to sign in Brussels sometime before October 31, while Haiti has indicated that it will do so as soon as its remaining concerns can be addressed.
A little over a week before the formal ceremony, Guyana had proposed the introduction of a joint declaration between the European Commission (EC) and Cariforum.
This was intended to address shortcomings that Guyana said it had belatedly identified.
After an intense discussion, an amended text acceptable to the EC and Cariforum was arrived at that contained language requiring a review of the EPA after five years and words that relate to the precedence of the Treaty of Chaguaramas over the EPA.
Despite this, it remained unclear up to the night before the signing whether the Guyanese government would attend or accede to the treaty.
As a consequence, meetings involving Cariforum and the EC were still taking place on legal and procedural issues the night before the event.
In government circles in parts of the region and Europe, Guyanas stance is thought to originate in domestic political considerations although to be fair, Guyana has suggested that it sought a declaration because of what it saw as fatal, flaws in the text that were likely to be damaging to its interests and those of other Caricom states.
However, irrespective of its motivation, Guyanas decision to seek a joint declaration after all heads of government had more than once agreed to proceed with the EPA and following months of public debate, may have longer-term implications.
Frustration at Guyanas approach
Speaking to some senior political figures from the region before and at the signing, they made clear their frustration at Guyanas approach and their concern about the implications for regional decision making. The late intervention has also left Europe at the highest levels with serious doubts about Guyanas longer-term intentions in respect of the EPA and serious questions about the viability of the regional integration process.
In contrast, Haitis decision to delay was more prosaic and due to continuing reservations over some of the EPAs provisions relating to regional preference, especially in relation to the Dominican Republic, development aid and tariff levels.
The government in Port-au-Prince also indicated recent hurricanes had delayed completion of public and private-sector consultations.
However, since Haiti already benefits under the Everything but Arms initiative and has free goods access to European markets as a Least Developed Country (LDC), the EC has made clear that it has up to 2010 to negotiate before signing the EPA.
Caustic debate on signing
But more broadly, the caustic debate in the run-up to signing and the event itself have made almost tangible a sense that two Caribbeans were emerging.
Setting aside the character assassination, suggestions that Caribbean heads had agreed a flawed document, letters questioning the role of senior figures and damaging inter-institutional rivalry, what is clear is that a more fundamental philosophical divide has emerged in the context of the EPA over the direction in which the region and its integration process is headed.
The polarisation of views suggests very different interpretations of the future course of Caribbean history.
Tension between nations
As a consequence, it appears unavoidable that there will be further tension between those nations, political parties, institutions, industries and groups in civil society that see the EPA as a tool of open regionalism and others who seek a model based on what might be described as a defensive regionalism.
Oversimplified, this might see on one side of the argument Jamaica and Barbados trying to develop rapidly practical new approaches to Caribbean development using models and development tools that support opening and integration with the wider world; while on the other, those, such as Guyana, and some of the nations of the Eastern Caribbean which seek to engage in a process that aims to complete a single market and economy hoping to make use of the solidarity and political leverage of the developing world as a prelude to a more gradual insertion of the region into the global economy on its own terms.
This dichotomy and the difficult challenges it presents were brilliantly captured in remarks made at the signing by Barbados Foreign Minister Chris Sinkler.
In a personally written address that confirmed the reason why he has become so highly regarded internationally, he set out in considerable detail why he believed the region had met almost all of its negotiating requirements in the EPA a task of significance given that prior to entering government he had been one of the EPAs most strident critics.
Challenging the region
Importantly, Sinckler found language to illustrate simply the need to move on and the challenge the region now faces.
The major question then, as it is now, and will always be going forward, is whether our region, we as a people, could afford the luxury of procrastination even in the face of fundamental global change ... he said.
Our signature of this agreement today ... represents a fundamental signal to the rest of the world that Caribbean countries are maturely and decidedly breaking with a long-loved past that in fact has now passed.
Of course, there are those among us who prefer like Lots wife, to look back at a life which we must have enjoyed and longed for to continue. We can have no quarrels with that. But surely, they understand that we must move on. Clearly, there are those who, like Charles Dickens Oliver Twist, will always say we have not got enough, keep on negotiating until you get all you want. But surely, they, too, understand that this is impractical and realities of the agenda set for us do not allow us that luxury. So we must move on.
And then they are those like the inimitable character in V.S. Naipauls classic Miguel Street who sawed and hammered and nailed day in and day out hoping to produce the perfect piece of furniture, only for it to be discovered by his neighbours that such a piece will never be delivered. Surely, they, too, must understand that no negotiated agreement is perfect and can produce perfect results ...
Space does not permit me to do justice to his remarks, which are available in full on the Barbados Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Despite this, it is valuable characterisation of the problems and attitudes the region must resolve as it now tries to implement the EPA.
David Jessop is director ofthe Caribbean Council. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.