Labour leaders want review of EPA

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, June 27, 2008 – There’s only about a month before Caribbean countries sign an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), but regional labour leaders are calling on leaders to hold out until they can review that final deal and make some necessary changes.

Representatives of workers’ organisations of the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean attending a two-day International Labour Organisation (ILO)/Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) roundtable discussion on ‘Globalisation, Regional Integration and the Economic Partnership Agreement: the Social and Labour Dimensions’ made the recommendation on Wednesday in a declaration which will be submitted to Heads of Government as they prepare for their 29th Summit in Antigua next week.

The trade unionists have called for a review of the recently initialled EPA, negotiated between the EU and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states and the Dominican Republic -, with a view to renegotiating it.

Among the recommendations made in the declaration are the insertion of protocols on the principal CARIFORUM productive sectors, “providing for the identification of legally binding bilateral cooperation measures to be provided under the agreement”; the inclusion of “legally binding development benchmarks designed to measure the socio-economic impacts of the EPA on key sectors of our economies and key segments of our societies – in particular, workers”; as well as the inclusion of “a provision for a mandatory review within three years of signature of the agreement, with the possibility of renegotiation”.

The CCL has also urged that the labour movement be given the opportunity to present its positions on major issues such as the EPA and all other external trade agreements.

“We think it is important that we have the input of workers into this particular trade arrangement that is going to be affecting the working class within the Caribbean in general,” said CCL’s first vice president David Massiah.

The declaration added that one of the aims is “to establish a mechanism to permit a closer working relationship between the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery and the Caribbean Congress of Labour to allow for labour’s participation in the process and to benefit from its negotiating skills”.

According to the declaration, the trade union leaders will also seek to ensure that the CCL, national trade unions, employers’ organisations and governments ensure that mechanisms are implemented to guarantee that provisions of the EPA and other external trade agreements are supportive of the Tripartite Declaration and Plan of Action for realising the Decent Work Agenda in the Caribbean (October 2006).