JIS News

Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has said that CARIFORUM Heads remain committed to concluding negotiations with the European Union (EU) on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by the end of the year.
Mr. Golding was making a report in the House of Representatives on (Oct. 9) on last week’s meeting between the CARIFORUM Heads and EU Commissioners.
“In reviewing the process achieved since the Ministerial meeting in Brussels in November 2006, both the CARIFORUM heads and the EC Commissioners agreed that despite considerable hurdles to be overcome and important issues still to be agreed on, the objective of concluding the negotiations in time for the EPA to come into effect on January 1, 2008 is within reach,”Mr. Golding said.
Among the critical issues to be resolved are market access, the removal of tariffs, a new sugar agreement to replace the Cotonou-based sugar protocol, as well as access for Caribbean bananas.
“In regards to market access, the CARIFORUM heads recognise that the duty free/quota-free access to European markets offers by the EU will not necessarily impact significantly on Caribbean economies given our relatively weak competitiveness in many product categories, certainly in the early stages of the proposed EPA,” Mr. Golding said.
“We are therefore committed to maintaining existing tariff levels on a range of sensitive goods to be placed on a list of exclusions, while still meeting the World Trade Organisation’s requirement for liberalization of substantially all trade. Tariff liberalization in respect of non-excluded items will be phased over five-year bands,” he stated.
Mr. Golding said a major issue yet to be resolved concerns the imposition of other duties and charges, adding that while agreeing to their elimination, “the CARIFORUM heads have insisted on a moratorium sufficient to allow for consequential fiscal adjustments.”
The Prime Minister informed that in the area of services, the CARIFORUM heads recognised the need to present a credible market access offer. “We insist however on safeguards to protect our vital tourism and construction sectors. Of particular importance is the need to ensure effective access of Caribbean professionals and cultural industries to European markets,” he said.
According to Mr. Golding, both sides have recognised the adjustment challenges, including the elimination of traditional sources of revenue, which the implementation of the agreement will pose, particularly to smaller economies among the CARIFORUM states.
“In this regard, the meeting examined the proposed increase in resources to be available under the European Development Fund through regional and national indicative programmes. There has also been an agreement that these resources will be supplemented by bilateral funding from EU member states,” Mr. Golding said.
The EU has committed to reach an annual amount of one billion Euros ($1.4 billion) in trade-related assistance by 2010, with a range of 50 per cent available for African Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP).
“A concern to the region is that a significant portion of the funds to be made available by the EU is ACP enveloped. This means that there will be competition among ACP countries with no assurance as to the quantum that will actually flow to the CARIFORUM states. We find this uncertainty untenable given the fact that the EPA negotiations are region specific,” Mr. Golding stated.
He told the House that CARIFORUM heads also voiced concern at the tediousness in the disbursement of funds long after they have been allocated.
“Whilst the EU has agreed to a substantial part of the funding being used for budgetary support, thereby giving greater flexibility, the process for draw-downs remains cumbersome often causing disbursements to overshoot budget cycles. The EU has agreed to consider the utilization of a regional development fund to facilitate speedier and smoother disbursement,” Mr. Golding added.
He said that the EPA is a long-term challenge with transition periods extending up to 25 years to allow for paced liberalization.
“The negotiators on both sides have been provided with the necessary mandates to enable them, hopefully, to conclude the negotiations,” the Prime Minister said.

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