It is my pleasure to formally welcome you, my colleague Prime Ministers and Heads of Delegation to this Special Meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM). We are here to address critical issues related to the CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The fact that we are meeting at this level as the negotiations near their conclusion is an indication of the importance which CARIFORUM places on the EPA negotiations.
My government has established, as a priority, increasing trade and investment and will be focusing on this as an integral part of Jamaica’s development strategy. In this regard, the EPA can make a significant contribution. However, it is important that as the deadlines drawn near and the negotiations intensify, we negotiate an agreement which places development at its core and takes account of the interest of the countries and peoples of the region.
The partnership with the European Union has been a valuable one. We would wish to further strengthen that partnership through the EPA. It is for this reason that we have scheduled a meeting with the EU Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Peter Mandelson and the EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Mr. Lois Michel, to review the negotiations and to address key issues such as the development dimension.
The engagement with the Commissioners therefore, will enable us to bring into sharp focus, those issues of critical concern to CARIFORUM, to hear the EC’s perspectives and to arrive at a common understanding on the way forward.
Notwithstanding the opportunities of this occasion, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are faced with many difficult decisions as the relationship with the EU transitions from one based on non-reciprocal preferential arrangements under the Lome Convention and Cotonou Agreements, to a reciprocal trading relationship which must be World Trade Organization (WTO) compatible. As we negotiate a new arrangement, we have to address real problems which will directly impact the lives of every man, woman and child. These include whether or not to continue raising revenue from import duties and other border taxes. Such revenue continues to contribute to the economies of countries in this grouping including Jamaica.
We will have to consider how this void in national budgets will be filled, if we are to move away from this source of funding. In these negotiations, we are also called upon to consider whether our farmers and manufacturers can compete with imports from Europe, which on the agricultural side, remain heavily subsidized.
Our sugar and bananas are increasingly coming under pressure and losing their preferential access in the EU market. Quota-free or duty free within the EPA, there is the question of whether our sugar and bananas will remain viable or whether those of us who are smaller producers must become the causalities of trade liberalization and a free market which favours the larger and more competitive producers over the smaller ones.
There is a serious adjustment to make. Our realities demand that flexibilities are built into the EPA to take account of our levels of development. The provisions of Article XXlV of the GATT should be interpreted in such a manner as to ensure that the greatest level of flexibility is provided while still maintaining WTO compatibility. We should recall that the Cotonou Agreement has provided for the ACP and the EU to cooperate in the WTO to achieve greater flexibility in the application of WTO rules in regional trade agreements involving countries at different levels of development. We must also remain aware that the EPA should not make ACP and thus CARIFORUM countries worse off that they were under the Lome/Cotonou Arrangements.
I am also aware of the deadlines which have to be met in these negotiations and I am aware of the limited time remaining. As a newcomer to the process, I am concerned about the frenetic pace of the negotiations and our ability to meet the deadlines and whether we are compromising our regional and national interest in the haste to conclude these negotiations. I not that CARICOM Heads of Government at their meeting last July called for the convening of a meeting of the Council of Trade and Economic Development to review the EPA in an effort to ensure that the agreement is one which can be sold to our people. I also note that the ACP will be convening a similar meeting in Benin later this month. These two meetings should allow us the opportunity to do some further stocktaking.
Colleagues, we here have much work to accomplish in just two days. I wish us to start as early as possible so that we will be able to adequately address the issues on the agenda and prepare for our meeting with the EU Commissioners. Therefore, as this is my first CARIFORUM meeting, let me take this opportunity to express my commitment to working with the Member States to ensure that in these closing days of the EPA negotiations, we can work together to achieve a model trade and development agreement which brings benefits to the region and which we can all be proud to present to our constituents.
I know that many of you are not strangers to Jamaica and, in fact, some of you are regular visitors. In spite of the hard work in which we will be engaged, I hope that you will find some time to enjoy the facilities of the Half Moon Hotel and the environs of Montego Bay.
In closing, let me thank the staff of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade as well as the CARICOM Secretariat and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) for all the hard work which has gone into organizing this meeting. I am sure that we will have two fruitful days of work and that we can leave here having given clear directions to our negotiations.
Thank you.

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