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CARIFORUM majority decides to sign EPA *LINK*

CARIFORUM majority decides to sign EPA

Friday September 12 2008

by Aarati Jagdeo

Thirteen of the 15 members of the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), including Antigua and Barbuda, have agreed to sign the CARIFORUM – European Union (EU) Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) by October.

The precise date is expected to be finalised after discussion with the EU, but signing the EPA will be done in time to ensure provisional application by 31 Oct. The two countries that refrained from agreeing to the signing proposal were Haiti and Guyana.

Haiti, which was represented at the ambassadorial level, conveyed that lingering reservations with the EPA had to be cleared by the president, before signing could be considered.

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President of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo, remained unchanged in his view of the EPA stating, “The only reason I’m going to sign this agreement is if Europe imposes GSP (generalised system of preferences) on my country, because I don’t have a choice. My exports are vulnerable. Outside of that I will never subscribe to such an agreement.”

Jagdeo has stated that he was prepared to sign a “goods only agreement”, which he noted would meet the World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements and which had been done with the African states.

The CARIFORUM – EU EPA was initialled last December in Barbados and will replace the Cotonou Agreement which expired at the end of 2007.

The EPA seeks to form a Free Trade Area (FTA) between the EU and African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries, and is a response to what is sometimes critiqued, as the non-reciprocal or discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU, which are incompatible with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

This would involve the removal, in phases, of all trade preferences previously established between the EU and ACP countries, of such as Antigua and Barbuda.

Deputy Director-General of Trade at the European Commission (EC), Karl Friedrich Falkenburg, rejected Jagdeo’s proposal saying that the ‘goods only’ deal was not a development supportive solution.

“Honestly, my answer is no,” he said, adding, “I don’t see how that is possible.”

Prime Ministers Bruce Golding of Jamaica and David Thompson of Barbados, who have both long been prepared to sign the EPA, have dismissed suggestions that the agreement be re-negotiated.

At the EPA consultation held in Guyana last Friday, International Diplomat and former Head of the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM), Sir Shridath Ramphal, concurred with Jagdeo and urged the leaders of CARICOM and the EU to look at a possible ‘goods only’ EPA.

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