Caribbean EPA held up as a model

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 21, 2008 – Even as some Caribbean governments plan revisions to the economic partnership agreement (EPA) initialled with Europe last December, the Caribbean EPA is being held up as a model by the lead negotiator on the European side.

In an address to the European Parliament in Brussels, European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told representatives from his member governments and the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) nations that the Caribbean EPA was so far the fullest agreement that had been signed between the EU and the six ACP regions involved in the trade arrangement.

He said the way in which governments and civil societies in the Caribbean worked together to monitor trade flows was something he wanted to see within the other regions.

“Future institutions and monitoring…will be an area of ongoing engagement for parliamentarians as EPAs are implemented. This is an area where Parliament and civil society have an essential role to play to support the more technical monitoring of trade flows. The Caribbean EPA shows how this can be done in practice and I would like to see similar arrangements in the full EPAs that will replace the interim agreements,” Mr Mandelson said.

The countries of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic (CARIFOUM) made history on December 16, 2007 by being the first of the six regions involved in the process to initial a full EPA with the EU. CARIFORUM governments are currently undertaking a legal review of the full text of the agreement with June 30, 2008 having been proposed as the date for full signing and provisional application of the agreement.

Mr Mandelson told the EU parliament it could expect to formally receive the Caribbean EPA in late June or early July, making it the first agreement presented for assent. 

However, he also noted that the old Cotonou trade provisions and World Trade Organisation waiver that had kept away legal challenge during EPA negotiations had expired and there could be no scope for fundamentally changing what had been agreed upon.

“We have made clear that in the context of the negotiations for a full EPA any issue can be discussed. But any suggestion of renegotiation of these agreements will bring a renewed threat of legal uncertainty and risk unravelling everything we have achieved. From my meetings with ACP negotiators, I believe that is well understood,” he said. 

Mr Mandelson also added that the EPAs could have a critical role to play in the climate of uncertainty currently surrounding food prices and food security.

“While we address the downsides of high prices, we should also not forget that they also have the potential to benefit people in the developing world because many have a comparative advantage in agriculture. Giving them the means and the markets to exploit those advantages is the best way to address the issue of food supply in the long term in particular for the poorest countries,” he said.

“It also means pushing ahead with EPA, not because they provide an immediate fix, but because they stimulate precisely the sort of regional markets, investment, transport links and policy co-ordination which can help boost agricultural production, particularly in Africa, and help regions cope better with fluctuations and price shocks,” the EU official added.