Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett -Birkett has declined to name Caribbean negotiators who she said had been paid by the European Union (EU) to seal the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the region.
In response to questions in the National Assembly by A Partnership for National Unity’s Shadow Finance Minister (APNU) Carl Greenidge, Rodrigues-Birkett referred him to Standing Order 17(1) and deflected enquiries about who and how much were paid by the EU.
“The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs is not responsible for the payment of the CARIFORUM College of Negotiators which comprises several CARICOM nationals and therefore cannot provide this information,” she said in her written response to Greenidge’s question.
Rodrigues-Birkett, who stated that she had been involved with CARIFORUM-EPA negotiations, denied Greenidge’s charge that she said in the House that there was malfeasance on the part of CARIFORUM negotiators. “The Minister of Foreign Affairs did not use the words ‘malfeasance’ and ‘complaint’ in the section of her presentation,” Rodrigues-Birkett stated.
Greenidge, who is a former Caricom trade negotiator, sought to find out who was paid for their services and who were paid by the EU, and who requested that they be paid by the mechanism that was used.
He also failed to get Rodrigues-Birkett to tell the House what proportion of the cost of the EPA negotiations was borne by CARIFORUM member states. “The responsibility for payment by all CARIFORUM Member States does not fall within the purview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs,” she said.
The minister used the opportunity to reiterate that the Caribbean was paying its negotiators for the Caricom-Canada Trade and Development agreement.
“To be clear, as a matter of principle CARICOM decided that following the experience with the EPA negotiations all future negotiation sessions will be paid for by Member States of CARICOM. As a result, the budget of CARICOM’s Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) which replaced the Regional Nego-tiating Machinery (RNM) includes a specific budget for CARICOM-Canada negotiations which is ongoing,” she said.
She added that the budget of the CARICOM Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN) includes a budget for CARICOM-Canada Negotiations. That, she added, is paid for by Member States of CARICOM. Rodrigues-Birkett informed that the Head of the OTN reports to the Secretary General, including on matters related to funding. “This was not the case with the EPA,” she noted.