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Caribbean Lagging on EPA Deadlines with Europe

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Dec 21 2010 (IPS) - Two years after Europe signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Caribbean Forum countries, concerns are being raised in the region about the timeline for future negotiations in a number of areas.

“In the cases of both CARIFORUM and the EU, completing the built-in agenda will be a challenging process fraught with many institutional, administrative and logistical hurdles,” said a statement released Monday by the Guyana-based Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN).

The OTN replaced the Barbados-based Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery that led the talks for the EPA. It noted that CARIFORUM, which groups the 15-member Caribbean Community bloc and the Dominican Republic, “itself faces many capacity constraints that add a different dimension to their challenges”.

“Limited capacity for extensive and sustained consensus building and coordination of positions amongst governments, and between governments and the private sector is a perennial problem within developing countries, albeit not unknown within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries,” the OTN noted.

“The early planning and mapping of activities under the built-in agenda would help to identify specific challenges as well as possible solutions to those challenges, which could also be supported through the use of the development assistance which has been earmarked under the Agreement,” the OTN said in a special update.

The EPA built-in agenda addresses the pact’s future commitments with respect to a number of disciplines under the accord that was signed in October 2008, one year after the negotiations were completed.

For example, in the area of services, Article 62 speaks to a commitment to engage in further negotiations on investment and trade in services, no later than five years from the date of entry into force of the EPA, with the aim of enhancing the overall commitments undertaken.

There is also a similar commitment towards progressive liberalisation of investment as specified in Article 74.

OTN noted that the parties have agreed to review the legal framework, the investment environment, and the flow of investment between them consistent with their commitments in international agreements.

“This is to be undertaken no later than three years after the entry into force of the EPA and at regular intervals thereafter,” it said. “Also with respect to services, the EPA speaks to the commencement of negotiations of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) no later than three years after entry into force.”

The MRAs set out the arrangements through which trade partners recognise each other’s methods of accrediting professionals.

While the EU has regulations which facilitate the mutual recognition of diplomas exclusively for EU nationals, for non-EU nationals, the right of professional service providers to practise in one EU member state does not automatically confer the right to practise in another.

Allyson Francis, a services and investment specialist with the OTN who recently led a workshop on MRAs in the Bahamas, said the European Union is encouraging involvement by Caribbean professionals in various fields in Europe, including engineering, health and tourism, among some 29 professional fields.

The process of the negotiation of MRAs is largely driven by the private sector, emphasising dialogue and consultation between relevant professional bodies in CARIFORUM and the EU.

Delivering his country’s national budget on Monday, Antigua and Barbuda’s Finance Minister Harold Lovell said the government there has already begun to reorganise itself to “more efficiently manage European Development Funds (EDF) provided to Antigua and Barbuda” under the EPA.

He told legislators that the Baldwin Spencer government has agreed to establish an EPA Implementation Unit with a mandate that includes disseminating and articulating the contents of the EPA, ensuring the public and private sectors have the capacity to exploit the agreement and to provide advice to the government on addressing constraints and accelerating the progress of implementation.

Most of the work scheduled under the built-in agenda relates to timeframes that are contingent upon the entry into force of the agreement.

The agreement took provisional effect on Dec. 29, 2008. However, the domestic actions that are necessary for entry into force of the EPA vary across the CARIFORUM states.

In most cases, cabinet approval is sufficient. In others – such as Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Suriname – the legislature must ratify the EPA.

According to the OTN, not all the CARIFORUM states have completed the necessary procedures to enable entry into force of the EPA. This means that correlating timelines related to the built-in agenda will be delayed until the process is completed.

The OTN urged that preparatory work be initiated as soon as possible.

“The commitment to engage in further negotiations in services and investment, for example, will provide the region with an opportunity to negotiate improved terms of access to the EU market. Such terms should be consistent with the evolving capacity and development of the region’s sectors,” the OTN said.

“At the same time, those terms should also be developed to ensure that the region captures the benefits and trading opportunities that Europe may accord to its trading partners in the future.”

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