JIS News

Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has said that the European market is a varied and large one that represents several market niches, which Jamaica can explore, under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
He was speaking at a forum on the Agreement and its implications for the agricultural sector, which was hosted by the Ministry, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), Jamaica Producers Group, CB Chicken and Tru-Juice, at the Knutsford Court Hotel, yesterday (June 16).
“These market opportunities have existed in the European Union for many years, under the Lome and Contonou regimes, but due to constrains in a number of things, for example the availability of investments, production and marketing capability, they have not been explored sufficiently, except for traditional exports,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton noted that in compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, about 11 per cent of total trade between the EU and CARIFORUM countries will be excluded from liberalization.
“For Jamaica, this percentage of exclusion from liberalization includes a range of sensitive agricultural products, for which the customs duty and stamp duty, and other charges will not be reduced,” he informed. These products include meats, poultry, turkey, beef, milk, pork, vegetable, tubers, condiments, sugars, coffee, rum, fruits and others. Consequently, the domestic market for excluded products will be protected against EU competition.
“For some products, duty reduction will be implemented over five, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five years, based on the placement of products in the different groups or baskets. This phasing approach gives CARIFORUM an opportunity to put its house in order and to prepare for the competition and opportunities that may arise in the future,” the Minister said.
He pointed out that there are challenges to this, and the sectors that will be affected should plan their business strategies with these provisions in mind. “A forum like this, hopes to sound the alarm that this is not unlimited time that we are working with – we have a period of time to adjust and ensure that we re-tool. The time frame for liberalisation up to 25 years could be considered a long time or sufficient time to become efficient and competitive,” the Minister told the gathering.
Dr. Tufton said that both the United States (US) and the EU delayed for almost 50 years, the introduction of very modest liberalization of their agricultural sector in the WTO in 1994, and have continued to resist the removal of subsidies and other provisions since that time. He referred to the recently passed US Farm Bill and its heavy subsidies for the sector.
“On the other hand, the small developing countries in CARIFORUM will face a formidable task ahead to make these sub-sectors sufficiently competitive to compete with US and EU subsidies, or to abandon them in favour of more profitable economic activities,” he pointed out, adding that for Jamaica, it would be necessary to plan ahead for the competition and possible creative use of EU products as inputs.
The Minister said the forum marks the start of a process to take the information to all direct stakeholders and possible investors. A number of other forums have been planned, and the Ministry has made available a booklet on the way forward for agriculture, under the EPA.
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Donovan Stanberry who chaired the forum, said the agreement has now “put the farmer somewhere in Alexandria, in St. Ann or Crofts Hill in Clarendon on the same plane with a farmer in Scotland. And so it is important for us to prepare our farmers to meet the challenges, to mitigate where it’s possible, (and) more importantly, to seize the opportunities.”
In her statement, IICA representative in Jamaica, Cynthia Currie said IICA was pleased to provide support to the Ministry, as the signing of the EPA is an important undertaking by the Governments of the region.
“The agreement will have a tremendous impact on countries like Jamaica, and it is for this reason that the hosting of this meeting is critical for the agricultural sector,” she said, adding that in today’s globalised trading environment, where agricultural products move across continents in staggering volumes on a daily basis, agriculture has proven to be a difficult sector to deal with, when trade agreements are being hammered out.
“This is so because agriculture is the backbone of so many economies, and it affects the livelihood of so many people, and therefore, it must be dealt with carefully. In a world which is now viewing food security as a top priority, for a nation’s prosperity, understanding what the impact of agreements such as the EPA have on the people who make up the agricultural sector, is critically important,” she stressed.
On December 15, 2007, the European Commission and CARIFORUM countries initiated an EPA, which is a comprehensive free trade agreement, encompassing goods, services, investment, government procurement, and intellectual property rights. The EU has already given approval for CARIFORUM goods to enter its market on a duty free quota free basis as of January 1 of this year. This excludes sugar, which will enjoy these benefits as of 2009.

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