Trade ministers tackle single market hiccups
Guyana Chronicle
January 26, 2002

`...we remain hamstrung by the fact that most of us continue to be commodity producers and price takers on the international market...' - Minister Clement Rohee
By Neil Marks
TRADE Ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) meeting in Georgetown yesterday placed high on their agenda issues related to the removal of restrictions to the full operation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

Officials of the Council for Trade and Economic Cooperation (COTED) met on Wednesday and Thursday to set the agenda for yesterday's ministerial session, chaired by Guyana's Minister for Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Mr. Clement Rohee.

Under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the legal framework for the CSME, CARICOM member states are required to eliminate practices that are inconsistent with obligations concerning nationals of other member states. These have to do with permitting them to exercise the right of establishment, the right to provide services, the right to freely move capital across borders and for states to treat other nationals of the Single Market no less favourable than their own.

At a news conference Wednesday, Rohee said that Guyana's agricultural commodities continue to suffer from unfair trade practices and discrimination from some member states.

However, in delivering remarks yesterday, he did not press this point with his colleagues. Rather, he said CARICOM states need to build their individual national capacities if there is to be a strong combined regional plan "to safeguard the region's trade and economic interests in the face of a downturn in the world economy, which was looming even before the (September 11, 2001) terrorist attacks (on the U.S.)."

"The success to a reliable and sustainable trade policy is to have the administrative capacity and expertise in place to translate that policy into pro-active, informed and focused activities at home and abroad," Rohee stated.

He said alliances of a tactical and strategic nature on all fronts, that is with Central America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia on specific issues, could very well be a factor in surmounting "the difficulties that lie ahead."

"If trade is to be central to the region's growth strategies and to defend ourselves against non-tariff barriers, it is imperative that we have competent, informed and well resourced trade policy operations in our respective jurisdictions," Rohee told colleagues and other COTED officials at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel.

He said this capacity is needed to enable CARICOM countries to be in a position to identify market opportunities and negotiate trade agreements that will increase job opportunities and boost individual member states' economic and social development.

Rohee said that CARICOM exports "little" to Latin America and Central America, but he said the CARICOM-Colombia, the CARICOM-Dominican Republic and the CARICOM-Cuba trade agreements will open up greater market access for products to those regions.

He stated that new possibilities will also open up with the CARICOM-Canada trade agreement.

"In this regard, a potential area for dynamic engagement is trade in services. However, the Canadians appear to be concerned about the many restrictions still in place in the services sector in CARICOM. It is for this reason that finalising Protocol 11 is critical to investment possibilities, not to mention the success of the Single Market and Economy," Rohee stressed.

"As we continually seek to diversify our exports, we remain hamstrung by the fact that most of us continue to be commodity producers and price takers on the international market. This situation is compounded by the fact that existing preferences for our traditional exports to Europe are likely to end by 2008," he noted.

As if to "add salt to the wound", Rohee said the region faces a new challenge from within the U.S. where Congress approved a Trade Promotion Authority, imposing stricter enforcement of trade laws for textiles. As a result, he noted, all U.S. knit and woven fabric will be required to undergo all dyeing, finishing and printing procedures in the U.S. in order to qualify for benefits under the existing Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI).

"In effect, this decision by the U.S. Congress not only welches the (CBI) Partnership Act, but also imposes stricter rules of origin for preferential imports of Caribbean goods under the CBI into the U.S.," he said.

Rohee urged Caribbean exporters and re-exporters of raw fabric to the U.S. to take note and make the necessary adjustments.

During the 12th Meeting of COTED, officials and ministers were expected to examine the implications of the events of September 11 in the United States on trade and economic developments in the Caribbean.

Other issues relating to a number of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements were also expected to come up for discussion.