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While we agree with his sentiments, we also believe that regional governments have not devoted enough attention or resolve in developing adequate expertise in the area of international trade; our own limited presence in Geneva being an indication.
We have had a long history with schemes under the Generalised System of Preferences that gave imports from developed countries like Barbados preferential market access, with lower duties than normal or even duty-free treatment. This has greatly contributed to the rise of export opportunities for developing countries. Then there was the Lomé Convention between the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States and the European Union that was replaced by the Contonou Agreement signed on June 23, 2000.
One of the pillars of this agreement was the new framework for economic and trade co-operation. It provides the existing Lomé trade provisions on preferential access to European Union markets are to continue until the end of 2007 at the latest.
We are now having trade agreements between groups of countries that grant each other preferential status, like the proposed Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the FTAA, which are still under negotiation.
These agreements are intended to advance the trade and economic development of members, which is permitted under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) despite its guiding principle of non-discrimination in trade.
However, these provide that the agreements should facilitate trade between their constituent countries, should create, not distort trade, and should not raise barriers to trade with other WTO members.
The CSME still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. Ambassador Havelock Brewster, in a lecture at the university Monday night, gave a very sanguine assessment of the single market. Among other things, he said there was a lack of political conviction and not a solid enough commitment to Caribbean unity, given the fact that the single market, though a contradiction with our several currencies, was premised on higher degrees of political integration.
So in the last few years we have had a flurry of trade agreements to deal with and, with very limited expertise, our resources have been stretched so thin that the CSME is almost stillborn. Against this background, we welcome the efforts of the Barbados private sector in establishing a team to provide technical inputs to the ongoing multi-national trade negotiations.
The objective is to enhance the capacity of the private sector in trade negotiations and to participate more meaningfully in national, regional and international consultations.
We would urge the sector to make full use of the facilities under the WTO and take full advantage of any technical assistance available under the International Trade Centre and elsewhere.
(Reprinted from the April 10, 2003 issue of the Barbados Nation)