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Prime Minister P. J. Patterson continued lobbying efforts on behalf of Jamaica and the rest of the developing world last year, with the highlight of his activities being his attendance at the Heads of Government Commonwealth Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta in November.
The Prime Minister, who spoke on matters relating to non-market access, tariff reductions and technical barriers to trade, pointed out that despite some achievements, there were structures still in place that hindered the competitiveness of developing countries. He called for the progressive liberalization of trade in services and said the global policy framework should facilitate the increased participation of developing countries in this area of international trade.
Mr. Patterson noted that overall development must be underpinned by improved access to technology in particular, information technology, and welcomed the attention being given to the subject by the CHOGM. The meeting was aimed at providing solutions to bridging the digital divide among member countries and identifying ways to strengthen mutual cooperation and investment in information and communication technology within the Commonwealth. It provided a platform for developing countries to secure a positive and meaningful consensus on multilateral trade from their counterparts in the developed world.
Prime Minister Patterson, who has responsibility for External Negotiations within CARICOM, said the achievement was an important milestone for the region as: “we have consistently highlighted the need for greater equity and market access in international trade”.
Meanwhile, giving a lecture at the (ECLAC) headquarters in Santiago, Chile in August, Prime Minister Patterson said Jamaica would champion the cause of developing countries for special treatment in the international trading system. He said that Jamaica and its CARICOM partners would remain resolute in their position that measures must be found to mitigate the negative impact of the loss of preferential market access. He pointed out that the removal of preferential trading arrangements was of great significance for Jamaica and the Caribbean, given the implications for market access for export products, foreign exchange earnings and employment.
OUTLINING THE WAY FORWARD FOR EXTERNAL NEGOTIATIONS
Mr. Patterson said that the region needed a regional external trade policy that was unified, focused and which must rest on the foundation of and be a logical expression of a coherent regional development strategy. His comments were based on a status report on external negotiations, which he gave at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting that concluded in St. Lucia in July. In outlining the way forward for Caribbean trade negotiations, Mr. Patterson said that consideration should be given to granting the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) legal status as this would allow it to qualify for additional resources and to mobilise funds from the private sector. He also called for more additional technical and financial resources to strengthen the capability of the CRNM. In explaining the need for a new thinking for external trade negotiations, the Prime Minister said there was a philosophical shift, which had manifested in the approach taken by developed countries in all the arenas of negotiation in which the region was engaged.
Pointing to the urgency that was required in adopting a new approach to external negotiations, he said that some member states were uncertain about the benefits to be derived from the cost involved in external trade negotiations because of the erosion of trade preferences, the tardy progress on special and differential treatment for small vulnerable economies and the general push toward reciprocity.
ACP/EU SUGAR PROTOCOL
He pointed to the proposed changes to the Sugar Protocol between African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU) as one example of the weakening global support for preferential trade mechanisms. He said that while the region did not expect the preferential systems to continue in perpetuity, there was need for consultation between ACP countries and the EU on any changes.
He also argued for a reasonable timeframe for the countries to make adjustments and financial assistance to meet the cost of social adjustment and to fund studies that would help economies to move beyond raw sugar export to other products such as ethanol. Prime Minister Patterson said that the region accepted the need for structural diversification but called the speed at which Caribbean countries are being forced to adjust “life threatening”. He said that the pace of the change was being affected by adverse external developments such as the price of oil, limited relief from high levels of debt, dismantling of trade preferences, and the lack of empathy for the challenges facing small vulnerable economies. He noted also, that the region was confronting a “task of unprecedented magnitude and complexity” in successfully completing the external trade negotiations in which it was currently engaged. Most of these negotiations are going slowly.
JAMAICA’S SUGAR POSITION GETS SUPPORT
In October, when members of the Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) of the ACP/EU paid a courtesy call on the Prime Minister at Jamaica House, they expressed support for Jamaica’s position on the proposed changes to the EU sugar protocol. Prime Minister Patterson told the parliamentarians then that the EU would be making a fundamental error in judgment by looking at the sugar industry purely in economic terms. He said that the threat to the political system, democracy and good governance must be given serious consideration as democratic governments faced challenges in dealing with people’s anger. Glenys Kinnock, co-president of the JPA, told Prime Minister Patterson that she would support Jamaica’s position for financial compensation. Mrs. Kinnock said that ACP countries had a moral case and urged them to use the opportunity at the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting held in Hong Kong in December, to strengthen their call to modify the inadequate compensation of 40 million Euros that was proposed by the EU.
She said that adequate compensation was important to affected countries especially in light of the need to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Mrs Kinnock said that she was now in a position to make the case of these countries more effectively to the EU.
PM SPEAKS ON EU SUGAR DECISION
When the decision was taken in November by EU Agriculture Ministers to reduce the price cut to ACP states for sugar exports to the EU by only three percentage points, from 39 per cent to 36 per cent, Prime Minister Patterson and other Heads of Government of CARICOM expressed disappointment.
Prime Minister Patterson pointed out that the Sugar Protocol was a legally binding relationship of indefinite duration and was based on the premise that the countries of the region would be treated no less fairly than beet sugar producers in Europe. Mr. Patterson said Caribbean countries were entitled to the same compensation as EU farmers and reiterated that the 40 million Euros compensation package allocated to the entire ACP group for 2006 was grossly inadequate and compared unfavourably to the six billion Euros provided for EU producers.