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Sunday, December 10, 2023
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Dec 3 2009 (IPS) - As the European Union gets ready to sign an agreement with Latin America to end a 16-year trade war over bananas, Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries are expressing their frustration at the perceived double standards of the Latin Americans leaders.
The new accord slashes import taxes on bananas from Latin America, from 176 euro (262 dollars) a tonne to 114 euro (170 dollars) over the next seven years.
But the region’s top public servant, Edwin Carrington, told IPS that the decision by the Latin American countries to consistently seek to erode the position of Caribbean banana-producing states on the European market “raises for me a peculiar question”.
“We are in the process of speaking about closer cooperation between Latin America and the Caribbean. We met in Jamaica on the sixth of November…and many of the countries that are party to that discussion… are the same parties whose struggles are pushing us out of the European market, our very limited access to that market in terms of quantity.”
The Caricom secretary general said these Latin American countries, such as Ecuador, already enjoy “massive benefits of the market…and yet we are being pushed out while we on the other side are speaking about cooperation and fraternal relations”.
“It does really raise some serious questions in my mind as to how we are going to reconcile those two positions,” he said, noting that in Jamaica there was agreement for a high-level meeting to be held in Mexico in next February to coordinate the positions of the Rio Group of Countries and Caricom.
Gonsalves argued that the Latin American leaders were publicly advocating closer relations, but were not following it up in their policies towards the Caribbean.
Carrington said that he has no doubt that the situation will occur again in the future, but he is also hopeful that the Latin Americans would understand the position of the Caribbean.
“I would hate to believe that the fact that [just because] you did something for so many years that you cannot change,” he told IPS.
The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have warned that the new accord with Latin America would severely impact upon their struggling economies, and convened an emergency meeting last weekend after details of the Geneva Agreement on Trade in Bananas emerged.
They issued a strongly-worded statement, warning that “the coming days could spell the end of the era when Europe considered the fight against poverty a priority”.
They said the banana deal is evidence that, in adopting a “global Europe” strategy in the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is abandoning its commitment to countries with which it has had long historical ties.
As part of the agreement, Europe has offered the ACP 190 million euro (283.6 million dollars) in so-called “banana accompanying measures” to help growers adapt to harsher market conditions and compensate those forced out of business by the liberalisation.
But the ACP is insisting that 250 million euro (373.2 million dollars) is the minimum needed and have also called for the cuts in banana tariffs to be linked to progress in the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations, which they hope could open up more market opportunities for ACP farmers.
On Wednesday, Trinidad and Tobago’s trade minister Mariano Browne, speaking in Geneva on behalf of the Caricom countries, criticised the banana accord, telling journalists the fact remains that the resolution of this longstanding trade dispute will result in the decline of a major Caricom export.
He said that even though the Caribbean was willing to agree to the conclusion of this dispute, it was insisting that a package, carefully crafted among ACP, EU and the Most Favoured Nations (MFN) suppliers that addresses 62 agricultural products, should be favourably taken up.
“Caricom considers this to be a final package and will therefore not accept any attempts to alter its provisions, in particular with respect to major Caricom export products, such as rum and sugar,” said Browne.
Browne, speaking ahead of the closing session of the Seventh World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference, said that Caricom was also demanding that the EC-funded Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) should be at an appropriate level for the budget period 2010-2013.
He said while the Caribbean is prepared to “accept this package on agricultural preferences, we remain concerned that the implementation of the Banana Agreement will result in the decline of a major Caribbean export industry.”
“We therefore remain convinced that the multilateral trading system must offer additional trading opportunities for these small, vulnerable, preference-dependent members,” Browne said, adding that the affected Caricom states “deeply regret that they have been unable to fully participate in the negotiations on an issue of vital economic importance.”
The Trinidad and Tobago minister said that Caricom was also calling on the WTO to ensure that there is a global trading system that would allow for real benefits to all members “through a genuinely inclusive, transparent and multilateral process”.
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