Sunday, September 7, 2008

Jagdeo proposes signing goods-only EPA

Jagdeo proposes signing goods-only EPA
Stabroek News news item. Saturday 6 September 2008

President Bharrat Jagdeo says he is prepared to sign a goods-only Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, “even if it means doing it alone,” as this would make the Cariforum grouping World Trade Organisation compatible.

Guyana was prepared to enter into a full EPA with the EU after it was determined what the implications would be, he said. He added that this would be his argument when he meets Caricom Heads of Government on the issue in Barbados on September 10, 2008.

The President, who had expressed concern about the EPA before it was initialled last December, declared his intention at a one-day national consultation on the Cariforum-EC EPA at the Guyana International Conference Centre, Liliendaal yesterday. His announcement was also well received by the majority of the participants.

Signing a goods-only agreement was first suggested at the meeting by economist Dr Clive Thomas.

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of Trade, European Commission, Karl-Friedrich Falkenburg said that since the EPA negotiating process the region had been strengthened. However, he said the issue of whether the region was going to sign the agreement individually, and ratify and implement it will test the solidarity of the region and regional integration.

Falkenburg said he has been in contact with other leaders in the region and has noted a clear resolve to sign the EPA. He warned that anyone not moving along was, in one form or another, putting the EPA at risk and causing issues with the regional integration that was so much at the centre of Cariforum’s work in the past and its workload in the future.

The EU, he said, has stated that it wants to assist the existing regional integration and not, as some are saying, to divide and negotiate. “That has not been the motivation nor the reality,” he said adding that over the years different regions in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping have defined their own reality and one size cannot fit all. Cariforum, he said, was more advanced in its negotiations in some areas but in others the other regions were more advanced.

Sir Shridath Ramphal, a former head of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) who spoke about the implications of reciprocity in keeping with the EPA, suggested that Guyana not sign the EPA until after the ACP heads of government summit to be held in Accra, Ghana on October 2, 2008.

However, the President told the media at a press conference held shortly after the consultation that he would not attend that summit because of a speaking engagement in China. But he would send a prepared statement with Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett.

He also told the consultation he did not know whether the Caricom heads would buy his suggestion not to sign the EPA, but to sign onto a goods-only agreement or whether they would wait until after the ACP meeting to do so.

“I will champion that. It is up to civil society to speak about this too because when governments alone speak about this they are caught in the middle. You have your networks in the region. Share with them some of the concerns here,” he told the gathering, adding that they “have a sense of what the challenges are… We will continue to take this matter up even if it means doing it alone.”

The suggestion of a goods-only agreement was picked up and supported by several participants, who were drawn from a wide section of civil society.

There were nine panellists but only two — Head of the CRNM Henry Gill and Falkenburg — were pro-EPA.
Jagdeo, in his introductory address and throughout the day asked many questions. However, he did not give Gill or Falkenburg enough time to answer most of the questions raised.

Jagdeo reiterated that the current agreement did not support the development aspirations of the region and the only reason why Guyana would sign onto it was because of the threat of tariffs and the General System of Preferences. He noted that Guyana had a lot to lose because it was among the largest exporters from the region to the EU of rice, sugar and rum.

Gill opposed Jagdeo, saying that the CRNM considered the EPA development-friendly as it had been well negotiated. He said too that it had obtained market access, with the exception of sugar and rice not receiving immediate liberalization; full access of goods on a duty-free and quota-free basis. It also offered the security of access to investments on the ground knowing they would be accepted and Europe could not pull the plug. The EPA, he said, committed the Europeans to assist in meeting sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards as well as providing technical assistance.

Issues that were of concern to Jagdeo included good faith negotiations, which he claimed the EU lacked based on its unilateral denunciation of the sugar protocol and the absence of an assessment of the social impact the EPA would have on the region. Other issues included how much funding would be available for adjustment and aid development; whether the EPA would conflict with regional integration efforts and impact negatively on the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

Gill and Falkenburg held the view that the good-only suggestion might not be a good one given the fact that apart from Guyana being a major exporter of agricultural products to Europe, other Caribbean countries were service-oriented.

Gill noted that services formed a large part of the agreement and that just about all the countries of the Caribbean were involved in the service industry. “We can’t disregard that,” he said adding that there were linkages between the goods and services sector in terms of production and efficiency, particularly in telecommunications, banking and port services. He said that when they signed onto the negotiations they were not entirely clear about the issues but they became clearer as the negotiations progressed to include competition policy, intellectual property rights and innovations.

Sir Shridath in his presentation said that Caribbean countries were not obliged under international law, treaty law or WTO rules to sign the EPA in its current form. “They are not precluded by international agreement from renegotiating that agreement or signing a part of that agreement,” he said noting that a previous speaker, Dr Chris Stevens, had already mentioned how regularly this was done.

He said there was no one option as to how this could be done noting that too many in the region have taken the view that because they initialled the agreement they must sign it. “To sign in its present form may be the wrong thing for generations of West Indians,” he said.

He said that in the final stages of the Cotonou negotiations, after looking at all of the options, it was stated that there might have not been an EPA at all. Provision was made for it in Article 37 (6) in the event the EU would examine all alternative possibilities in order to provide these countries that are not signing the EPA with a new framework for trade, “which is equivalent to their existing situation and in conformity with WTO rules.” The EPA before the region, he said, was not equivalent to the existing situation.

He said reciprocity was recited throughout the text like a mantra, but he felt the Europeans would know that reciprocity required not equity but proportionality.

Gill explained that while reciprocity was mentioned it did not mean full reciprocity but asymmetrical reciprocity.

Calling the EPA anti-development, Sir Shridath said it would become a benchmark for future negotiations with other developed nations. “This is an agreement with the world. It is a global giveaway,” he said adding that “at the very least signing onto the EPA is premature. Whistling in the dark is sometimes understood but signing in the dark is positively reckless.”

On ACP solidarity, he noted that the ACP was conceived in Brussels by the Caribbean and came into being 33 years ago in Guyana with the Georgetown Accord and the Caribbean being the trustees of the ACP charter.

Noting African solidarity with the Caribbean over the years and particularly on the issue of the rum industry, which would have had a negative impact on Guyana, he suggested that the region collectively put signing of the EPA on hold. “Is our partnership with Europe now more special than with the ACP? ACP solidarity is not an abstract concept,” he said.

He posited that the EU needed the six EPAs even more than any one region needed it.

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