The future of the Caribbean’s longstanding cooperation agreements with Britain, EU hang in balance

Dear Editor,

The 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which resulted in the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) is of special significance to Guyana and other former Caribbean colonies of Britain, France and The Netherlands.

Britain joined the EEC in 1973. It negotiated with its European partners, the inclusion in a new convention, a preferential trade agreement it had with its former colonies.  Nineteen years after the establishment of the EEC, the first trade and development convention between the former colonies of Holland and the UK was signed in 1975 at Lomé. That convention became known as Lomé 1.

The ACP group was formally established in 1975 in Georgetown. The agreement establishing the Group became known as the Georgetown Agreement. The development instruments of the Convention were Sysmin, Stabex and the European Development Fund (EDF). A Regional Development Fund (RDF) Sysmin was established to assist ACP countries enhance their mineral production and exports. Between 1976 and 1985 Guyana’s bauxite industry benefited from some 3m ecus as Sysmin aid.

Stabex was set up to compensate for shortfalls in agricultural export earnings. Guyana never benefited from this facility since its major agricultural exports to Europe were sugar and rice. These were pegged to a quota system. The RDF was principally set up to accelerate development for depressed and disadvantaged regions in the less developed countries in Europe such as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. RDF resources were also utilized to facilitate infrastructural development in the Overseas Departments of France and the Netherlands such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and French Guiana. Several African countries benefited from Sysmin, Stabex and the EDF for industrial and infrastructural development.

They also benefited from the preferential, trade arrangements which facilitated duty free market access for their agricultural products to the huge European market. The former Caribbean colonies benefited primarily from duty free, preferential market access for their sugar, rice, rum and bananas which the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) had first successfully negotiated separately among themselves, then later as one ACP group with the EEC. Each agreement reached was subsequently branded the ACP/EU sugar, rum, rice and banana protocols.

The Sugar Protocol in particular was arrived at as a result of intense negotiations with the EEC led by the Caribbean’s own PJ Patterson among other African and Pacific regional leaders at the time. The sugar protocol was renewed every five years in succession following annual negotiations between the two blocks, thus, Lomés 1, 2, 3, and 4.

It is also important to point out that with the passing of each of the four, five- year Lomé Conventions, substantial increases were allocated to the EDF.

Guyana benefited enormously from EDF resources through the Cariforum/NIP/NAO mechanism which required the Caricom countries along with Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Suriname to submit and justify at meetings of the Forum requests for funding regional and national projects.

The Ogle International Airport project, the Linden Economic Advancement Programme (LEAP) and scores of other projects in sea defence, pure water supply at Rose Hall, Pouderoyen and New Amsterdam as well as the mangrove rehab project were financed through EDF resources. Regional cooperation projects such as the Guyana-Suriname Ferry Project, the establishment of a law school in The Bahamas, construction of a new seaport in Antigua and Barbuda and regional airports were all financed through EDF resources.

Guyana has been a principal beneficiary of the sugar protocol. It fought tenaciously at the ACP level not only for its maintenance but for its extension as well. When the protocol was challenged at the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a discriminatory trade instrument that went against trade liberalization and was deemed unacceptable by Brazil and a number of other countries, the ACP sugar producing countries led by Guyana, Mauritius and Kenya mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign that took them to Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Brazil and the UK to call on governments and NGOs to support their call for the maintenance of the preferences inherent in the sugar protocol which to them, was inextricably bound up with the livelihood of millions of workers and their families in countries whose economies were dependent on sugar as the major forex earner.

It was during this mini-trade war at the WTO that the naked economic self-interest of a combined group of developing economies were pitched against the economic interests of a combined group of small economies whose lifeblood was sugar.

No other agricultural product save sugar, brought out in such a bitter manner, the divisive nature and naked self-interest of member states of the WTO.

Europe on the other hand, though supportive, came under heavy pressure from a host of WTO members, including some of its own members who paid lip service to their commitment to the preferential arrangement for ACP sugar but at the same time, exerted political pressure on behalf of their beet sugar producers who were demanding a larger share of the EU market for their product. Thus, local electoral politics in the European theatre played a big role in the erosion, leading to gradual dismantling of the sugar protocol for the ACP countries.

Then came the ACP-EU Regional Economic Partnership Agreements signed in June 2000 in Cotonou which would contribute to the slow but inevitable, withering away of longstanding preferential product specific arrangements between EEC cum EU and the ACP sugar-producing countries. The Cotonou REPAs cover 150 countries with a population of some 1.5 billion people in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

With Britain about to trigger its withdrawal from the European Union, the future of the Caribbean’s longstanding cooperation agreements, first with Britain, then later with the EEC, and now currently with European Union, hang in the balance. We are clearly now in another sea of uncharted waters, a phenomenon not unfamiliar to Guyana .

This time, however, it’s foreign in colour. The key question is; do the Cariforum countries have the national technical capacities to negotiate on parallel tracks with both Britain and the European Union.

Yours faithfully,

Clement J Rohee

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