Region Must Seize Opportunities Offered by The EPA


Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery Ambassador Dr. Richard Bernal, has noted that CARIFORUM countries need to seize the opportunities that are currently available under the recently negotiated Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU).
He was speaking yesterday (Feb. 21) at the American Chamber of Commerce of Jamaica speaker’s forum luncheon held at the Hilton Kingston Hotel. Dr. Bernal noted that the EU is a large and lucrative market of 50 million consumers and that it is one of the region’s main trading partners. “Fifteen per cent of our imports come from the EU and some of our critical exports have depended on those markets in particular sugar and banana. So there is potential for us in that market,” Ambassador Bernal said. He further noted that small countries need to make use of the opportunities that the global economy has to offer. “If you react passively you are going to be one of the losers and you are going to be marginalised. But if you react positively, proactively and strategically, the (EPA) can be a basis for a good economic future,” Ambassador Bernal said.
He added that in world economies the service sector is growing rapidly while noting that in the Caribbean “sixty odd per cent of our Gross Domestic Product is generated by services with most of it by tourism, (however) we need to diversify that service base. There are still a lot of unexploited opportunities like higher education.”
“Some of our leading institutions here at the university level made a strenuous case for us to exclude all foreign universities from providing services here and we said no. You have a comparative advantage (if) you are the Caribbean institution, why would you fear competition. So we should be looking not to exclude competition but to export our services,” Ambassador Bernal said.
In the meantime, he said that the region needs more growth in exports, noting that the market is undiversified.
Explaining the rational for the agreement, Dr. Bernal said, “The preferential arrangements which we enjoyed for sugar and banana have been struck down by rulings with the World Trade Organisation. We wanted to salvage as much of the preferential arrangement as we could and therefore we wanted to move quickly to replace the existing trade arrangements with a new arrangement which would lock in the remnants of that preferential arrangement.”
The EPA agreement covers trade in goods and services, investments and provides for development assistance for capacity building. It came into effect on January 1, 2008.
Also under the reciprocal agreement, CARICOM exports will enjoy duty and quota-free access to the markets of EU member countries, however they are not immediately required to provide equal access to EU exports as the region had secured an ‘exclusion list’ representing 13 per cent of current imports which are available locally.

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