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’We will all live to regret it’

Jamaica Observer | Sunday, March 30, 2008

’We will all live to regret it’

Professor Girvan warns that EPA could widen inequalities among Caricom states

Sunday Observer staff reporter

LEADING Caribbean scholar of the political economy, Professor Norman Girvan, has said the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the CARIFORUM group and the European Commission could create wide inequalities among Caricom member states and fragment the Community.

Addressing the closing session of the ninth annual Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) conference at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Friday evening, Girvan called the EPA "an agreement we will all live to regret at a time not too far into the future".

The EPA, which was brokered last December, gives Caribbean countries duty and quota free access in goods (with the temporary exception of rice and sugar) and services to EU, and is supposed to be the replacement for preferential trade agreements.

Girvan’s warning came as Antony Hylton, Jamaica’s former minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, argued in an essay published on Page 13 of today’s Sunday Observer that the Jamaican Opposition and Government should work together on getting an amendment to the EPA, particularly the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) Clause.

"Our concern about the scope of the agreement to cover areas not yet settled in the Caricom arrangements, for example, government procurement, are for very much the same reason, that is, lack of resources to adequately meet the challenges inherent in these far-reaching obligations," said Hylton.

"However, our greatest concern then and now is the severe limitation on policy option by future governments implied by the 11th-hour acceptance of the MFN Clause, proposed by Europe, and recommended for acceptance by Prime Minister Golding to the rest of CARIFORUM governments in the dying moments of the negotiations. The MFN Clause obliges Jamaica and its CARIFORUM partners to give to Europe any more favourable treatment/benefit it gives to a third party with which it enters into a subsequent agreement," added Hylton.

Girvan, who was being honoured at the conference, said there was room for possible conflict between the provisions of the EPA and those of the treaty that formed Caricom.

"The jury is still out on what happens if there is a conflict between the provisions of governance for the EPA - which entrenches a joint council of the European Commission and the CARIFORUM states, and gives that council the power to make legally binding decisions on the parties, who are obliged to carry them out on pain of being submitted to the disputes settlement provisions.

"And the jury is still out on what would happen if there is a conflict between the organs of governance and the provisions of the Treaty of Chagaramus and the EPA," Girvan said.

He said, too, that the wording of the EPA does not make clear when CARIFORUM states can or should act individually or collectively.

".It states that the parties to this agreement are the European Commission representing EU member states on the one hand, and CARIFORUM states acting collectively on the other hand, but it also goes on to say, ’for the purpose of this agreement the CARIFORUM states act collectively’, but that where the provisions of the agreement require the individual CARIFORUM states to exercise their rights or to undertake obligations, the reference in the document is to signatory CARIFORUM states," Girvan said.

He said the Caribbean had come to a metaphorical fork in the road. One path (the CSME) led to greater regional integration "with the purpose of exercising greater autonomy", and the other path (the EPA) led to "loss of autonomy to shape our own future".

Girvan said greater regionalism should have existed before any sort of agreement with the Europeans. Whether the Caribbean would actually ever be in a position to change its fortunes, Girvan said, was left to regional governments and time. He said part of the solution also lay in a "reassertion of the intellectual space" and more critical, individual thought, particularly among the young.

"In the words of [Marcus] Garvey, ’I want our people to think for themselves’," Girvan said. In the words of [Lloyd] Best, ’We are at the centre of our world’. In the words of [George] Beckford, ’We have the resources in this region and we have the ingenuity among our people to make of this region a veritable paradise on this earth.’"

 source: Jamaica Observer