Trade just one part of new economic deal -De Visscher
Rohee stresses need for impact studies
Stabroek News
February 15, 2002

The power of a new trade arrangement under the EU/ACP Cotonou Agreement will be an economic partnership characterised by the removal of barriers and the strengthening of cooperation in all areas relevant for trade development.

So said Head of the European Delegation to Guyana and Suriname, Vincent De Visscher, in remarks at the opening of the Caribbean Regional Seminar in preparation for negotiations on Economic Partnership Arrangements (EPAs) between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries at Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel yesterday.

The EPAs, De Visscher said, would not be limited to trade access and goods, but would deal with many other subjects which were increasingly becoming central to trade development such as standards, certification, services, intellectual property rights and trade facilitation. Through the EPAs, he said, comprehensive and stable arrangements would take into account the level of development of ACP countries.

He said that the EPAs would contribute to the ACP's objectives of sustainable growth and poverty reduction. ACP countries have qualms over the proposed EPAs.

De Visscher said too that the 2000 Cotonou Agreement attached major importance to regional integration and cooperation as a key component to the smooth and gradual integration of the ACP economy into the world economy and as a political instrument that contributed to structured stability in prevention of conflict.

Meanwhile, Foreign Trade and International Cooperation Minister, Clement Rohee, urged that the ACP countries seek to improve and develop the region's capacity to participate meaningfully in the negotiations, which begin in September.

Rohee, who gave the main address, said the ACP countries must also determine their position for the negotiations on the EPAs.

Noting that at the same time CARICOM member states were working assiduously towards the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) he said that the CSME should be considered when making critical decisions in respect of the ACP-EU negotiations for EPAs.

It was a cause for concern, he said that the Project Management Unit, agreed to by the ACP and the European Commission, which should be responsible for the disbursement of 20 million Euros for capacity building and preparations for negotiations had not yet been established.

The unit should have been set up since last month but it is now envisaged that it would become operational by April. He said that the tardiness only served to impede the preparations of the ACP for negotiations with the EU. In addition, he said that preparations by ACP states will be further compromised since impact studies, which should inform the various ACP regions and member states, were yet to be completed.

Urging those responsible for ensuring that the studies were undertaken to spare no effort in discharging their responsibility in this regard, Rohee said that the outcome of the EPA studies; the implications of the controversial `Everything But Arms' (EBA) arrangements by the EU for the world's least developed countries, trade policy compatibility; and coherence in the context of regional integration processes are all integral elements of the preparatory process for negotiations. ACP countries see the EBA as having disastrous consequences for a range of their vital exports particularly sugar.

Rohee said that even more important than the configuration to which it will subscribe for the negotiations of EPAs, was how the region will organise itself to safeguard its vital interests in those negotiations, regardless of the form they might take.

He quoted European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Poul Nielson, as saying in January in India, that the European Commission might consider the possibility of widening the EBA to include not only ACP non-LDC countries, but all developing countries. He said Nielson asserted that the EU should broaden the scope of the EBA initiative and gradually eliminate all tariffs and quotas for all developing countries. Such a possibility Rohee said heightened the need for every effort to be made to complete the ACP impact studies to safeguard vital interests.

CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, noted that the discussions over the next two days were being led by the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM). Among those taking part in the discussions are representatives of regional governments, the private sector, labour movement, regional and hemispheric organisations and academia.

He also noted that the seminal discussions on the EPAs were once again taking place at the birthplace of the ACP charter known as the Georgetown Agreement, which was signed here in 1975. The ACP membership has grown since then from 46 to 78 and the EU has expanded from nine to 15 member states. CARICOM, which then comprised six members has grown to 15 and "we look forward to the inclusion of Cuba in the not too distant future". Observers point out that Havana's accession would be a political hot potato for CARICOM considering the US's strong opposition to this and the EU view that there should first be fundamental internal changes in Cuba.

Carrington noted that the negotiations for which the meeting was preparing, marked the beginning of the end of those halcyon days of non-reciprocal trade relations with Europe. But in spite of this, he said, the discussions must be guided by the objectives of the ACP accord of 1975 - sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and improving the well-being of people.

In brief remarks Senior Director of the RNM, Henry Gill, said that the relationship with the EU was important to the Caribbean not only in terms of trade but also in terms of development in other sectors.

In trade, he said, European imports from the Caribbean accounted for Euros 3.3 billion for the year 2000. Of that sum Euros 2.8 billion came from CARICOM countries. He noted that European trade imports from the Caribbean were growing slowly compared with European imports from other developing countries, but added that the good news was that there had been a shift from primary to industrial products from the middle of the last decade.

Assistant Secretary General of the ACP group Adelaide Mkhonza thanked the Guyana Government for hosting the Caribbean discussions on new trading arrangements as agreed to for a period of 20 years in the Cotonou Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin in 2000. The negotiations for the new EPAs will end by December 2007. (Miranda La Rose)