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Venue of the talks was the Convention Centre of the Ocean View International Hotel, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.
Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Mr. Clement Rohee noted that future agreements between the two trading blocs (ACP and the EU) are of primary importance to this country since trade agreements between them will significantly influence Guyana's economic performance. Approximately 80 per cent of Guyana's total export of sugar goes to the European Union.
Senior Director of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM), Mr Henry Gill in his remarks at the opening ceremony admitted that for Guyana, Europe is very important economically.
"The relationship in trade terms signifies last year Euros 280 million. What is also very significant is that Guyana has a very large trade surplus with the European Union - a very large trade surplus, probably the largest surplus margin of any country in the English speaking Caribbean. So Guyana's interests are very much at stake as we move to the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement..." Gill stated.
The content -- benefits and implications -- of this new agreement was discussed during yesterday's talks.
In this regard, Gill congratulated the Ministry of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation on its initiative to hold the consultation, since according to him Guyana is the first country to be doing so in the CARICOM region.
"This is the first country to be hosting a national consultation on the ACP-EU relations in the English-speaking Caribbean and I would consider that this consultation would have been successful if, at the end of the day, the participants would have understood what is at stake generally in the negotiations, would have understood the critical interest areas for Guyana specifically, would have understood the relationship between the negotiations for economic partnership agreements and other negotiating processes with which the region is involved and would have set out with a fair degree of clarity what continuing works need to be done at the national level to enable Guyana to contribute effectively to the ongoing development of a Caribbean position..."
"...and also to continue its own domestic preparation to improve maximum efficiency to enable the country to benefit from the international opportunities that derive and are supposed to derive from the inclusion of the liberalisation agreements that we are involved in," Gill told participants during the opening ceremony yesterday.
He noted that the consultation is very timely since it's just a matter of weeks after the official launching of the negotiations in Brussels, expected to conclude by 2007 the latest, of a new set of economic partnership agreements between the different ACP regions and the EU.
"As here in the Caribbean, one cannot over-estimate the importance of our relationship with Europe (since) its importance lies very clearly in the economic area of trade," Gill asserted.
According to him, Europe is one of the Caribbean's two most important trading partners, in addition to Europe's importance in the area of economic cooperation or development assistance.
"Beyond the economic, however, politically Europe is very important to us and helps us to counter-balance the other hold of power which lies to the North," he said.
Gill said the ACP countries will be engaged in these negotiations with the EU even as Europe itself is expanding. He referred to the recent decision to incorporate ten new members into the European Union over the next few years.
"Far from giving Europe indigestion, I think what we have to look at is that we're dealing with an ever-expanding European market which to us here in the Caribbean should (and) so far as it is possible, deepen integration or even widen integration. These two things must go hand-in-hand in an era of globalisation," he asserted.
"The lesson for us is that if they as an economically powerful (group) find it is necessary to continuously expand in order to better position itself to take advantage of the opportunities from globalisation, why shouldn't we also deepen or expand our own integration movement to be able to place ourselves in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities," Gill suggested.
Meanwhile Rohee, in his comprehensive address to the gathering, noted that 27 years ago here in Georgetown, 46 ACP countries met to affirm their common identity based on solidarity and to give the ACP group the proper legal status which it had lacked.
He recalled that for those who may not have been aware of this, sugar played a unifying factor in the process and gave better leverage for the ACP to bargain with Europe for an enhanced Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
"After a long and difficult journey during which we exerted every effort to grapple with the trials and tribulations of development...(from the LOME conventions finally ending with the COTONOU agreements) - we can safely say that the wheel of history has moved a full circle," Rohee said.
According to him, the ACP countries now face a fresh set of challenges such as the rapid changes in the political and economic world order.
"Many ACP countries which gained their independence in the 1960s are still grappling with the vestiges of colonialism and its appending features such as under-development, reliance on commodity exports and an anachronistic productive structure. Moreover, at every stage of the development process are new challenges, influenced mainly by external factors (and these) must be tackled," Rohee urged.
He asserted that probably no one would have envisaged, say ten years ago, that Caribbean countries would have been faced with threats today in the banana, rum, sugar and rice industries due largely to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules regarding preferential trading.
Rohee also encouraged all participants at the opening of the national consultation to actively participate in the initiative, which he said is "aimed at ensuring that Guyana's best interests are protected and advanced in the upcoming ACP-EU negotiations".
Mr. John Isaacs, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, in his welcome and opening remarks noted that yesterday's presentation was very significant because it brought together members of civil society, economic, social as well as non-state actors to sit and have discussions regarding the ACP-EU negotiations and relations.
Ms. Helena Laasko, Economic Advisor to the Delegation of the European Commission in Guyana and Suriname, in her presentation outlined the EU's commitment to the process of ACP-EU integration.
She pointed out that on September 27, 2002 the EU and the ACP countries opened negotiations on a new trade partnership dealing with poverty and integrating the developing countries into the world's economy.
Ms Laasko noted that this new agreement -- the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) - is the joint response of the ACP and the EU to the growing divide between the rich and poor countries in particular in Africa as well as the small islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Laasko also noted that the EU has gone a long way in fully opening up its markets to the poorest countries of the world through the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiatives and gave the undertaking that the EU "wants to go further".
"We have agreed that the opening of the ACP economies takes place in a gradual manner starting with aid for the ACP which is accompanied by the necessary support measures," Laasko told participants.
A key element of this new partnership, she said, is "regional integration" among ACP countries since the creation of larger markets will contribute to attracting both local and foreign investors.
At the same time, she pointed out the harmonisation of policies will grow at the regional level and will offer a more transparent and stable economic environment.
Laasko also described the EPA as "a partnership agreement in which the objectives can only be achieved if both sides are prepared to bring a willing contribution to the table".
"Therefore, while the EU will be prepared to further open up its markets and to address the main barriers to trade, the ACP states must be prepared to implement appropriate domestic policies, setting the framework for regional integration and sustainable development," Laasko said.
"We, on our side, are prepared to assist the ACP states through technical and financial cooperation in implementing these policies (and) I firmly believe that trade needs to be accompanied by aid and this is why, a few weeks ago, the EU has adopted an action plan of concrete measures to assist developing countries to benefit from the trade based on these principles," she added.
Ms Laasko also noted that the EU is prepared to apply maximum flexibility as regards the scope and nature of obligations and timelines involved for their implementations.
The EPA, however, would have to ensure a smooth transition towards enhanced ability, efficiency and trade, she added.
It was noted at yesterday's consultation that Guyana's total trade with the EU has risen from Euro 163.3 million to Euro 280.0 million over the period examined, and that the EU imports from Guyana constitute the bulk of this trade and grew from Euro 118.5 to 202.8 million (71 per cent).
It was also noted that, very significantly, EU imports of agricultural products from Guyana represent a very high share of total imports - 80 per cent in 1990, a high of 87 per cent in 1999 falling to 73 per cent in 2001 and this is in comparison with only 33 per cent for CARICOM and 27 per cent for the ACP.
The trade balance is consequently heavily in Guyana's favour and the balance has increased from Euro 73.7 million in 1990 to 125.6 million in 2001.