JIS News

Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has expressed concern about the pace of the European Union (EU)/CARICOM negotiations towards establishing a new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Making his opening remarks on (Oct. 4) at a special meeting of CARIFORUM Heads of Government at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay, Mr. Golding, questioned whether all interests will be properly served in achieving the deadline, with the present agreement set to expire on December 31.
Negotiations have been ongoing between the two sides to have a new agreement in place by January 2008.
Mr. Golding, who is also Chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Prime Ministerial Sub Committee on External Negotiations, emphasized the importance of having an agreement in place, but stressed the equal importance of having an agreement that has built-in flexibilities that take into account the different levels of development within the region.
“I am aware that the deadlines that have been set for the conclusion of these negotiations are upon us. I am aware of the limited time that remains. We are concerned about the frenetic pace the negotiations have had to adopt, our ability to meet the deadline, and whether we are compromising our regional and national interest in the haste to conclude these negotiations,” he stated.
The Prime Minister noted that a meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government held in July of this year had called for a meeting of the regional Council of Trade and Economic Development, to review the EPA in an effort to ensure that the agreement “can be sold to our people.”
Mr. Golding expressed the view that the meet between CARIFORUM Heads and EU Commissioners Peter Mandleson, and Louis Michel, set for later today, will enable the regional group to bring into sharp focus those issues of critical concern to CARIFORUM.
He said the dialogue would also air the Commissioners’ perspectives, and arrive at a common understanding on the way forward. The Prime Minister advised, however, that sight must not be lost of the fact that the region is faced with many difficult decisions as the relationship with the EU transitions from a non-reciprocal agreement to a reciprocal one, which must be World Trade Organisation (WTO) compatible.
“As we negotiate for a new arrangement, we have to address real problems, which will directly impact the lives of every man, woman and child in our respective countries,” he said.
“In these negotiations we are also called upon to consider, whether our farmers, our manufacturers can compete with imports from Europe, which on the agricultural side remain heavily subsidized. We will also have to consider whether our producers can be competitive enough to take advantage of the new reciprocity in trading arrangements,” he added.
Mr. Golding further expressed deep concern at the recent unilateral renunciation of the sugar protocol on the eve of these planned discussions with the EU commissioners.
He emphasized that the new EPA should not make CARIFORUM countries any worse off than they were under the previous agreement, adding that the negotiated agreement must place development at its core, and take account of the interest of the countries and peoples of the region.
Also in attendance at the meeting were Chairman of CARICOM, Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur; Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves; Prime Minister of Belize, Said Musa; and President of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo.

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