Flexibility urged in activation of EU trade deal

-at joint parliamentary assembly
This week’s ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Georgetown said while implementation aspects of the Cariforum trade deal were not yet fully explored, there must be restraint on the part of the EU since structural changes are needed for this region to benefit fully.

In that light, members called for flexibility in implementation as well as a review if necessary of certain clauses in the Agreement.   And to this end members welcomed the establishment of the EPA Implementation Unit at the Caricom Secretariat since in their view it will need to have regular consultation with Caribbean national parliaments, according to the final communiqué.

The 3rd Regional Meeting of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly  (ACP-EU JPA) was held  at the Guyana  International Conference Centre, Liliendaal from February 24-27.

The meeting brought together ACP members of the JPA from member states of the Caribbean region and their counterparts from the European Parliament.  The meeting was presided over by Co-President Glenys Kinnock and Acting Co-President Otmar Rodgers of Suriname.

In the formal opening session of the meeting statements were presented by Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran and the Co-Presidents while President Bharrat Jagdeo gave the keynote address.

Members also called on the European Commission and EU member states to ensure that timely and adequate resources were made available, in particular to support the implementation and adjustment costs  of EPAs, managing the loss of government revenue, and building capacity to address supply side constraints.
Additional funding, they contended,   should be provided within the framework of the principles agreed upon in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action, especially those aspects relating to donor coordination.  They asserted that this was  even more imperative given the  likely impact of the current financial and economic crisis, which will have far-reaching  consequences in the region.

New opportunities
On an optimistic note, it was acknowledged  that the Agreement presented new opportunities  “for ownership, accountability  and transparency which if properly utilized will assist in bridging the democratic deficit perceived in the negotiation phase by strengthening the scrutiny and oversight role of parliaments during implementation.”

Tourism
The communiqué noted that members urged Caribbean member states to promote tourism in the context of regional integration   and sustainable development in which the local population  also takes ownership and benefits from the industry since currently 80 cents of every tourism dollar leaves the region. It was regretted, however,  that there was no single visa system for or within the region despite the fact that globally the region is often promoted by the international tourism industry as a single destination.

Members also called for renewed efforts at ensuring the sustainability of tourism by adopting policies and practices that preserve the environment, and  emphasized the need to fight against anti-competitive prices in the tourism industry while expressing  support for  the “full and faithful implementation of the relevant industry regulations incorporated in the Cariforum EPA.”

Narcotics trade
According to the Assembly, the foremost security concerns in the region are the rising level of crime, the narcotics trade, human trafficking and illegal arms trade as well as the inadequacy of the criminal justice system.  The communiqué said that globalisation had facilitated  criminal syndicates to intensify and extend their activities on a global scale and members thought that the social and economic repercussions that will result from the global financial and economic crisis will lead to a rise in criminal activities.

Members, however,  applauded the establishment of regional institutional mechanisms aimed at promoting collaboration among member states in fighting crime.  Moreover, they requested that particular attention be paid to the laundering of money from the narcotics trade and in this regard they called for resources to be provided to countries in the region, many of which are used as transit points towards northern markets whose ever increasing demand for narcotics fuelled the trade.

“While transit nations are made unattractive for investment and tourism due to the narcotics trade, international financial support is concentrated on producer and consumer states,” the communiqué stated, adding that the narcotics trade had become a challenge to legitimate economic activities.

Members  emphasized  that fighting crime needed  a multi-sectoral and inter-agency approach to address demand and supply issues, as well as preventative measures targeting youth and education as well as treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.

They noted too that the  Caribbean region was  affected by natural disasters with serious consequences for education, health, tourism and transport infrastructure  and  called for adequate resources to be provided for prevention adaptation and mitigation measures.  It was observed also that while most Small Island Developing States and low lying states do not contribute to climate change, they suffer disproportionately from its effects.

In this regard the international community was urged to give due regard to the principles of the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Convention on Climate Change that emphasize the importance of common but differential responsibilities among the Parties.

Standing forests
Meanwhile,  members recognized the contributions of standing forests in the fight against climate change, and the need to improve infrastructure and establish forecasting systems and better responding mechanisms.   Against  this background members welcomed  the  action taken in the Caribbean region to mitigate the effects of climate as exemplified by the efforts of Guyana in responding to the 2005 floods.  They noted the EU planned financial support for ACP states to respond to climate change and agreed with the proposal for financial compensation for Caribbean states such as Guyana and Suriname  for their efforts in protecting standing forests.

The Co-Presidents are expected to present conclusions of the meeting  at the next meeting of the ACP-EU  JPA Bureau and the 17th session of the ACP-EU JPA in Prague, Czech Republic, and to also forward the Georgetown Communique to the ACP Parliamentary Assembly, European Parliament, European Commission, Caricom Secretariat   and the national parliaments of Caribbean ACP states, the communiqué added.
Members earlier acknowledged that the Cariforum EPA had been signed by all Caricom states except  Haiti, despite some reservations. The EPA is a complex agreement, they acknowledged,  therefore it was  desirable that the Caribbean should have time for reflection and that the EU show restraint. Members were told that the European Parliament was currently engaged in the ratification process of the Cariforum EPA and that national parliaments of EU member states also have to ratify the agreement.  They emphasized the need to adapt implementation of the Agreement to the specific needs of each country in view of the multidimensional nature of the possible effects of EPAs.
Members also discussed the problems faced by the banana industry  in the region which is likely to be negatively affected by the outcome of  the EU’s negotiations and they were also concerned by the news that the EU was  finalizing negotiations with Central American states which could result in a cut in the EU import tariff on Central American bananas  although legally the Caribbean  EPA is supposed to protect the banana sector.  Given the importance of bananas especially to the Windward Islands States  which has enabled them to develop economically and socially, erosion of the EU market for bananas from these countries will have serious economic and social consequences that could lead to security threats and instability in the region.  It was pointed out that diversification from this sector was almost impossible as there are no other viable alternative export products in the short term.
Meanwhile, members welcomed steps taken towards the normalization of the relations between the EU and Cuba which will have an impact on the EU’s strategy  for the Caribbean.  And while the EPA had not been signed by Haiti, it was hoped that this would not lead to that country being marginalized, the communiqué said.

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