Civil society input crucial to implementing EPA Agreement

-Rodrigues-Birkett

A recent two-day consultation series on the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) sought to strengthen the private/public sector dialogue on trade issues, and is expected to pave the way for political and technical input from civil society.

According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) release, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, addressing stakeholders at the forum which concluded Tuesday, noted that the input of civil society and public participation are critical in the implementation process.

The minister said that this is an important aspect, since there are often challenges posed with respect to access to information on the strategic interest of the private sector and other non-state actors.

“There is also the issue of the ability to effectively communicate the implications of trade negotiations to stakeholders, as well as formulating policies which seek to balance government’s commitment and the interest of non-state actors…  While there are institutional mechanisms in place for inter-agency coordination of trade policy issues, awareness seminars such as this one, will so a far way in demystify technical jargons of trade negotiations,” she is quoted as saying.

The forum, which was held at the Foreign Service Institute, Shiv Chanderpaul Drive, Georgetown, focused on positioning the region’s goods and services to tap into commercial and other opportunities within the EU market.

Rodrigues-Birkett told stakeholders that Heads of Government, following an EPA consultation, had established an appropriate technical unit within the CARICOM Secretariat, not only to oversee the implementation of the EPA at the regional level, but to provide technical support to member states.

Cognisant of the potential threat the EPA poses to the CARICOM regional and integration arrangement and the imbalance between the development support and liberalisation demands of the EU, government has maintained its stance that the agreement must provide for the periodic overall review by the parties.

“The Government of Guyana takes very seriously, international agreements we sign and the EPA is no different. Notwithstanding our reservations we signed and it was no surprise therefore, that Guyana was among the first group of countries to put in place all the necessary legislative arrangements for the implementation of the agreement,” Rodrigues-Birkett  said.

She added that the agreement which will significantly impact CARICOM’s future with respect to negotiating free trade agreement is, however, the most complex one negotiated by Guyana.

On January 15, government implemented the EPA Tariff Schedule for goods, which saw the Customs Act being amended to include the EPA schedule of Tariff rates, allowing Guyana to fulfil its obligation.

In line with this, the Guyana Tariff Liberalisation schedule was negotiated with the view of safeguarding local and regional production capacity; revenue sensitivity and employment through tariff exclusion.

“Imports from the EU account for approximately nine percent of total imports. Similarly, customs revenue raised from EU imports is only a small share of total customs revenue-around 13 percent,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, Rodrigues-Birkett called for enhanced attention to be placed on the development of the services sector, since it will pave the way for an increase in exports. This, she added, will only happen if the capacity of Guyanese service providers to access international markets is developed.

Often, the potential for expanding services exports is overlooked in national development planning, she said, due to inadequate statistics and a lack of familiarity with export activities of services firms. As a result, she stated that it is imperative for Guyana to maximise the opportunities for growth and development.

According to Rodrigues-Birkett, to overcome the “invisibility” of service industries, an immediate widespread awareness should be embarked upon since the area is known as a significant job creation and foreign exchange earner. “We negotiate trade agreements because we want to open up greater access for our country’s export of goods and services and to improve the opportunities for the growth and development of our business sector in trade and investments,” she asserted.

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