Sunday, September 7, 2008

Guyana could be isolated for its stance on the EPA – Sir Shridath

Guyana could be isolated for its stance on the EPA – Sir Shridath

Stabroek News. September 7, 2008 @ 5:21 am In News | 3 Comments

Guyana is in danger of being isolated because of its opposition to signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Cariforum and the European Union in its present format and this could have serious implications for regional integration.

Responding to a question from the floor at the national consultation on the EPA at the Guyana International Con-ference Centre, Liliendaal on Friday, panellist Sir Shridath Ramphal, said that what Guyana does or does not do in relation to the EPA has implications for regional integration.
Sir Shridath has called for the signing to be put on hold until after the grouping of African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Heads meeting in Accra, Ghana on October 2.
Asked what the implications would be for Guyana, Sir Shridath, who is based in Barbados, said it would have been easier to answer the question if the region were united but “we have to acknowledge that the region is badly divided. And in fact Guyana is in danger of being isolated and that will have serious consequences for regional integration.

“Our priority should be consummating the Caribbean Single Market and Economy. That is what we have committed ourselves to, fundamentally, in terms of regional integration and that should be our guiding star.”

The real value of Friday’s consultation, he said, was that it should arm President Bharrat Jagdeo with the sense that the present initialled EPA was unacceptable; that what was needed was a regional consensus and that the EU has to be re-engaged in renegotiating an alternative acceptable to Guyana and that is a goods-only agreement.

He did not accept the EU’s position that the region had to sign the agreement or face the consequences of tariffs and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSPs) and said it was clear in international law that having initialled the agreement it was open to the parties to agree to be bound by part or all of the initialled text. As such, he said it was incumbent on Caricom and the EU to agree to look again at the possibilities, for example, of a goods-only agreement.
He was convinced that if the region was united in the request for a standstill on the rest of the agreement the EU would negotiate that. “They could hardly refuse it having agreed to do it with so many other regions,” he said.

However, if a part of Caricom was prepared to consent to be bound by only a part of the agreement and another for signing the entire agreement, “that then becomes an issue of considerable difficulty both for the European Union and for Caricom.”

Because of such a scenario, he said, he suggested that no decision to sign be taken on September 10, 2008 in Barbados when Caricom heads meet but that they seek to engage the whole body of the ACP on where the grouping stood in relation to the EPAs. Guyana, he said, should use the Barbados forum to say that the ACP heads were meeting in two weeks in Accra and the region must seek to engage them in the discussions.

There was the possibility that there could be a collective response, which would help to shape the region’s response to Europe. “Europe then has to listen. This agreement is of importance to Europe. We must not think in the context of take it or leave it; that Europe is quite happy with our leaving it, they would not be,” he said.
Answering the same question, the Antigua and Barbuda-based Sir Ron Saunders said much depends on how the EU would respond to Guyana and what its partners in Cariforum would do. If the Caribbean would stand with Guyana and say it accepted that Guyana would like a goods-only agreement and recommend that to the EU, it would have a chance of withstanding the statement made by Deputy Director General for Trade, European Commission Karl Friedrich Falkenburg that the EPA as currently negotiated was virtually a take it or leave it situation.

The question Guyana’s political directorate has to ask itself, he said, was whether it could rely on the support of its Caribbean partners. “I suppose that would be answered on Wednesday when President Bharrat Jagdeo meets other Caricom heads in Barbados,” he said.

He was not sure how reliable the ACP would be, but added that should Guyana gain the solidarity of the Caribbean then Guyana should hold out and if at the ACP there was solidarity, then Guyana could continue to hold out. The question that Guyana has to ask itself and those who said that Guyana should stand up, he said, was what would happen if the EU applied the GSP to sugar and rice. And in the next few months if the economy began to go slightly haywire, would the people then stand up with the government.

He said he did not think that the Guyana government would want to make that kind of decision without the concurrence of the opposition parties and the trades union movement because when the pressure was on all would have to bear it collectively.

Falkenburg, in his response, reiterated that the EU was not imposing an EPA on the region but that it had been negotiated between the region and the EU with its background in the signing of the Cotonou agreement in 1998. The understanding, he said, was that the Cariforum countries would have negotiated an EPA by December 31 2007, that it would be WTO compatible and address investment, services and other issues. Having been jointly negotiated, he said, it was not a diktat as the consultation, which involved a technical team, a ministerial team and even Caricom, appeared to have been making out.

Europe, he said took the unprecedented move to grant market access to Caribbean goods even before the signing of the EPA took place, in good faith at the end of last year with the expectation that the agreement would be effectively implemented. “On that basis we took the risk of putting in place market access for which we could be criticized in the WTO. It is illegal under present WTO rules. Now we have done that because we are committed to the WTO negotiations,” he said.
He said Europe would “deplore very, very seriously if this negotiating result we have achieved after so many years of negotiations would fail.”

The EU, he said, was a player in a multilateral trading system that was collectively designed and under the system, Europe could not maintain market access without the justification of a free trade agreement negotiated, signed and notified with the WTO.

At this point, President Jagdeo intervened, even though the session was being chaired by his advisor on governance, Gail Teixeira, and reiterated what he, Jagdeo had been saying all along that the region could preserve the market access and still be WTO compatible. This was Jagdeo’s second intervention and it prevented Falkenburg from addressing the issue of ‘Most Favoured Nations’; which came as a question from the floor.

Jagdeo said he would be happy if Europe dropped the pretence of development, which it claimed as part of its policies. Lectures on the Millennium Development Goals, environmental issues among ethical issues, he said, were all false. “My point is I am going to continue to battle this,” he said adding that he would refrain from speaking across the region in countries that have agreed to sign the agreement and would argue for a goods-only agreement.

“I want Europe to take me off the list - Annexe One — because I say I want only a goods agreement in Guyana’s case. Take me off that…,” he said contending that he was not alone in the region in his view and that other countries had grave concerns.

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