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CARIBBEAN: Key Committee Pushes Forward Trade Pact with Europe

Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jun 13 2011 (IPS) - The inaugural meeting of the Trade and Development Committee (TDC) of a sweeping trade pact between Caribbean nations and the European Union is being hailed as a success by regional diplomats.

The convening of the TDC had met with earlier delays. It is a key component in implementing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that the European Union signed in 2008 with the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM), comprising the 15-member Caribbean Community plus Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

“Notable strides” were made, “albeit with a mixed record of success,” said Alexis Rosado, the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Belize, who chaired the Jun. 9- 10 inaugural meeting.

He spoke of Britain’s Caribbean Aid for Trade and Regional Integration Trust Fund (CARTFund), which has provided the financial and technical impetus for establishing EPA Implementation Units in a number of CARIFORUM states.

“These units are expected to have a direct and positive impact on EPA implementation in these states,” he said.

“These institutional additions to the EPA implementation landscape across the region are very tangible expressions of EU States’ commitment to assisting their EPA partners through Aid for Trade. Since the inaugural meeting of the Joint Council, these institutional advances have emerged as vital components of the machinery of EPA implementation in the region,” he said.

A statement issued at the end of the closed-door meeting said that both Europe and CARIFORUM agreed “to work collaboratively towards an Aid for Trade-styled coordination and resource mobilization event in 2012 for CARIFORUM, in recognition of the magnitude of the financial requirements of the EPA implementation task ahead, at both regional and national levels”.

The EPA provides for a TDC to assist the Joint CARIFORUM-EU Council, which at its inaugural meeting in May approved Rules of Procedure for the Committee, the second highest institution after the Joint Council. The TDC’s functions include supervision of and responsibility for the implementation and proper application of the provisions of the EPA.

“The two sides agreed that the meeting represented a ‘crucial step’ in efforts to move forward on full implementation of the EPA, not least because it provided an opportunity for detailed exchanges on and identification of follow up required in respect of a range of matters” that included legal issues; ratification of the EPA; trade in goods and services; development cooperation; and monitoring the implementation of the EPA, the statement said.

CARIFORUM countries stressed the importance of continued support to Caribbean’s rum industry and the continued erosion of preferential treatment “as it relates to agreements that the EU has concluded and those that are under negotiation affecting rum and other products of interest to CARIFORUM”.

The CARIFORUM countries also raised issues regarding the liberalisation schedule for trade in goods, in particular relating to motor vehicles and their parts, and changes to product rates assigned. The statement said that Europe has “given an undertaking to review these matters, based on a formal submission from CARIFORUM”.

Prior to the start of the meeting, the EU Delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean noted that among the matters to be raised under the aegis of trade in goods included tariff reductions, application for non-tariff barriers for the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as the tariff liberation schedule for motor vehicle, parts and components.

The statement made no mention as to whether there had been progress in those areas.

CARIFORUM delegates also used the two-day meeting to update their European counterparts on the work being done toward trade in services, in particular as relates to the negotiation of mutual recognition agreements.

On Jun. 16, St. Lucia will host a two-day workshop for CARIFORUM trade officials that the organisers – the EPA Implement Unit of the Caribbean Community Secretariat – said “is propitious, in so far as the engagement stands to build on the momentum” coming from coming so soon after the inaugural TDC meeting here.

“It will seek to clarify the provisions of the EPA related to Services and Investment, point to obligations which CARIFORUM States have undertaken, identify activities needed to be undertaken to implement the obligations, draft national work plans and refine the Regional work plan for Services,” said the Implementation Unit’s Trade in Services and Investment Specialist, Allyson Francis.

But the Barbados meeting also agreed that there is more to be done, especially in the area of “innovation”, with both sides underscoring the need to “elaborate specific actions that they could undertake to promote further CARIFORUM participation in existing and future EU innovation programmes and activities, including joint activities with the EU Outermost Regions”.

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