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What next after EPA?

The Nation, Barbados

What next after EPA?

19 October 2008

By Rickey Singh

Finally, the on-and-off official signing ceremony for a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Caribbean and the European Union (EU) is over.

The divisions that surfaced among proponents and antagonists for a delay to make it a more improved partnership will linger.

For now, as Guyana prepares to add its signature this week to those of last Wednesday’s 13 at the Sherbourne Conference Centre - with Haiti’s to come much later - there is question of immediate relevance. For example, how prepared are the 15 CARIFORUM countries (CARICOM’s 14 and the Dominican Republic) for the implementation process of this new historic relationship being forged with Europe?

Barbados’ feisty Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business, Chris Sinckler, once a leading opponent of the EPA when he served as Executive Director of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), may well have reflected a widely shared sentiment when he spoke at the EPA signing ceremony.

He said: "This is a highly complex and comprehensive agreement (250 Articles covering some 2 000 pages), and the effort needed to implement it will be at times more onerous than that spent negotiating it . . . "

It is an observation with which the key actors of both the European Commission (executive arm of the EU) and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) who were directly involved, with ministerial inputs, as well as their critics could concur. This is so even as one side insists that the signed EPA document represents "the best deal we could have", and others hold it up as a "flawed agreement" of contentious clauses, including trade and services.

Secretary General of both CARICOM and CARIFORUM, Edwin Carrington, had earlier said "what this new economic partnership now demands of us, CARIFORUM and EC, more than ever, is prudent and effective implementation by all parties . . . ".

There are also, let’s admit, a need to speedily remove prevailing ’bad blood’ between the CRNM and the CARICOM Secretariat to ensure a more open collaborative effort in the best interest of the Community.

Undoubtedly, there are good people in both who now should be encouraged to work more in harmony and avoid the conflicts over turf that have so often arisen and which CARICOM leaders have failed to resolve. Initiatives for a sensible resolution should begin before the start of coming negotiations on Trade and Development with Canada, and later, in 2009, with the United States of America.

For a start, it should be recognised that a significant difference exists between the European Commission, empowered with executive authority, to function in the interest of the European Union member states and the CARICOM Secretariat that does not come anywhere near to enjoying such a mandate.

The EC negotiates and implements. The CARICOM/CARIFORUM Secretariat is invariably left to implement what’s negotiated by the CRNM, with the assistance of a ’college of negotiators’ and in consultation with the Council On Trade And Economic Development (COTED). It is then accountable to the Community’s Prime Ministerial Subcommittee On External Economic Negotiations.

Had CARICOM heads of government, past and present, summoned the courage to implement a visionary programme for effective governance of the business of the region’s integration scheme, some of today’s problems relating to the functioning of the CRNM and the Community Secretariat would not exist.

As things are, the CARIFORUM Secretariat functions out of the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, under the same Secretary General; while the CRNM is not even officially listed as a treaty-based "institution" of our 15-member Community and has no legal obligation to be accountable to the Secretariat.

By virtue of an arrangement put in place under its first Chief Negotiator, Sir Shridath Ramphal, the CRNM reports directly to the Prime Ministerial Subcommittee On External Negotiations which, in turn reports to the heads of government as the supreme organ of the Community.

The European Union has already concluded arrangements for some 40 million Euros to assist in the implementation proceses in the interest of the regional economic integration scheme as this pertains to both the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the EPA with Europe.

Which of the two will take precedence, or how complementarity figures in the implementation process of both (CSME and EPA) may unfold in the months ahead?