Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Hon. Dr. Kenneth Baugh, says that the Jamaica Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is designing an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) project to submit to the European Union (EU) for grant funding.
Dr. Baugh, who was speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (February 15), said that the project is aligned to the National Export Strategy (NES) and seeks to support identified growth sectors of agriculture – fresh produce, aquaculture and agribusiness.
“The overall objective of the programme is to foster the creation of an enabling institutional environment for business development in (the) agriculture, manufacturing and services industries to support the agriculture and agribusiness sectors. The specific objective is to strengthen competent authorities and sensitise the private sector,” he informed.
The move to secure grant assistance from the EU comes as the country commences the provisional application of the EPA. As part of the process, measures are also being put in place for the phased liberalisation of tariff lines.
Dr. Baugh told the House that Cabinet approved this undertaking last December, which, he said, required “in-depth analysis of the schedules of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service."
He informed that a draft has been prepared for amendment to the relevant sections of the Customs Act and is being reviewed for submission to Parliament. “The timeline for completion, he told the House, “is contingent on how quickly this can move through the legislative process.”
The EPA is a partnership between CARIFORUM countries and the EU and facilitates liberalised trade between signatory CARIFORUM and European countries. CARIFORUM countries comprise the 15 member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic.
The agreement also provides for a special immigration plan by which European companies can hire professional, technical or qualified personnel for up to six months of work.
The provisional application became effective in December 2008 following the signing of the agreement in October of that year, and gives member states time to put the necessary framework for the EPA in place, prior to its entry into force.
Dr. Baugh informed that during last December’s meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in Guyana, members were advised that only Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and the Dominican Republic have thus far, ratified the EPA.
Additionally, only Malta, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom from the EU have done the same. Haiti, Dr. Baugh pointed out, is not yet in a position to implement the agreement, based on developments in that country.
The Minister said most CARICOM member states, as Jamaica has done, have started or are about to commence work on the phased liberalisation of tariffs in their domestic markets, which came into effect on January 1.
“It is now understood that St. Kitts/Nevis, and Guyana, by ministerial order, have recently commenced the phased liberalisation under the EPA. In fact, St. Kitts/Nevis notified COTED of its readiness to commence phased liberalisation of domestic tariffs at its (COTED) session in December 2010,” Dr. Baugh said.
CONTACT: DOUGLAS McINTOSH