Negotiator insists EPA the best for region

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, August 28, 2008 – Even as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries seem unsure about signing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe next week as planned, the region’s lead negotiator has insisted that the Caribbean couldn’t want a better deal.

“We have, if you want, the most generous agreement that exists on this earth in terms of what we have to give in return,” said Henry Gill, Director General of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), which negotiated the EPA with Europe on behalf of the CARICOM.

He was speaking on the first edition of ‘Caribbean TradeBeat Extra’, a series of radio shows which form part of a region-wide campaign to explain how the EPA will benefit the region’s businesses and economies.

“We are able to exclude, first of all, a large number of products that are our most sensitive products,” Mr Gill said. “In the case of the CARICOM MDCs (more developed countries), 15 per cent of our imports, on average, are excluded entirely. In the CARICOM LDCs (less developed countries), 30 per cent of their imports are excluded entirely…This is quite unique.”

“We are gaining secure access to what is in fact the largest market in the world, for all of our exports across the board…on a duty-free, quota-free access forever, so that is a big gain,” added the CRNM head.

There has been criticism of the new trade deal coming from some regional figures and academics, with some leaders indicating they want to look at it again before signing.

Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago have made it clear they are ready and willing to go ahead with the September 2 signing, insisting that the time for talking is over. But on the heels of some others saying they aren’t ready just yet, Barbados’ Prime Minister David Thompson has requested that CARICOM leaders meet to discuss the matter.

That meeting has been tentatively set for September 8, but no official word has been given on whether the signing scheduled a week earlier in Barbados will go on as planned.