JIS News

Since assuming office on September 11 last year, Prime Minister, Bruce Golding and other CARIFORUM leaders initialed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), on December 31, 2007, heralding a new trade agreement between Europe and the region.
Mr. Golding pointed out that the EPA provides access to a market of 490 million people with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and per capita income of US$13 trillion and US$30,000, respectively. He added that securing a few of those niches could provide a springboard for real sustainable economic growth and development.
He pointed out further, that because of the agreement, countries of the region now have a better opportunity to penetrate the European markets, and the deal could also bring an increase in investments to the region. The Prime Minister called for “regional urgency,” in utilising the opportunities that will be presented, including the establishment of niche markets.
Turning to critics of the agreement, Mr. Golding said that they fall into two categories – those who think the region can exist on its own, and those who think that the world owes the region something. “Part of our problem, part of what has held back this region for so long, is that there are too many of us who carry not a chip on our shoulder, but a whole light pole, and we need to get rid of it, so that we can move on,” he emphasised.
“Our economies cannot survive on their own. Our economies cannot grow if the economic space within which they are to grow is limited to what we have in the region. We have to strengthen our legs. It is time for countries of the Caribbean to stand up on those legs like grown men and women and be prepared to walk into the future,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Golding sought to allay fears, that CARIFORUM countries may have given up more than they will gain from the EPA, noting that the one-way preferential arrangement that existed under the Lome Convention could not continue indefinitely, as it contravened World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
He said the negotiators have also sought the inclusion of a stratified timeline, for reciprocal duty free and quota free access of goods and services, between Europe and the region. This, he said, should give manufacturers enough time to adjust to dealing with tariff-free competition. He said the EPA also offers protection against unfair trading practices, which can also be accessed under the WTO.
The Prime Minister said concerns that the agreement was hastily concluded are unfounded as, after a seven-year period in which the region should have arrived at a successor arrangement to the Cotonou Agreement, much of the negotiations for the EPA, were actually done in the last three months before the deadline. He said if the EPA had not been concluded, exports from CARIFORUM countries into Europe would have been subjected to the general system of preference, under which import duties would apply. The duties, he stated, would have effectively made local exports to Europe uncompetitive.
Mr. Golding pointed out that improving country productivity and product competitiveness would have been necessary, whether or not there was an EPA, based on increasing competitiveness in the global market. He argued that Jamaican manufacturers and exporters have not been looking to Europe as a viable export market, possibly because of the travel distance involved. He said now is a good time to seek out opportunities in Europe, especially as they relates, to niche marketing.
The Fourth Lom