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I have always read with great interest articles in local newspapers mentioning the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement, better known as the EPA. Despite the EPA having been in application for over a decade, I note, with some regret, that there are still misunderstandings and misconceptions about the Agreement.
The CARIFORUM-EU EPA (contrary to what one recently published article claims) has been signed by ALL CARIFORUM States and is provisionally being applied in the EU and all the CARIFORUM Countries (except in Haiti, pending its ratification). Unfortunately, I am still obliged to address fundamentally false claims about the EPA allegedly limiting or closing access to the European market for certain most lucrative Caribbean trade whilst opening the Caribbean market to European products.
The facts are that the EPA provides immediate DUTY AND QUOTA FREE market access into the EU for ALL Caribbean products (except arms and munitions), whereas market access to the Caribbean market for European products is phased over a 25 year tariff liberalization period and will not include most sensitive goods such as agricultural and fishery products, beverages, ethanol, rum and vegetable oils, just to mention a few.
The CARIFORUM-EU EPA provides also (unlike other EPAs that the EU has concluded with other ACP regions) a substantial market access for CARIFORUM’s services. The CARIFORUM-EU EPA is also the first trade agreement in which the parties specifically included comprehensive provisions on culture. The Protocol on Cultural Cooperation implements the 2005 UNESCO convention on the Protection and Promotion of cultural diversity, and is providing CARIFORUM artists and other culture-related services suppliers with better conditions for the temporary movement of persons, for co-production market access, and other aspects, which have been a high priority in particular for CARIFORUM creative industry practitioners. The role that this Protocol can play in stimulating opportunities for the cultural and creative sector of the CARIFORUM region, within the EU market, cannot be overemphasized.
The CARIFORUM-EU EPA aims at achieving sustainable development by establishing a trade partnership which promotes regional integration and the gradual integration of CARIFORUM countries into the world economy. It also includes capacity building measures and supports increased investment. This is a new kind of trade agreement, as sustainable development is the presiding principle governing the whole agreement. Sustainable development is backed by development cooperation provisions, allowing for technical and financial assistance to achieve the goals of the agreement.
All this, however, does not mean that the EPA has been delivering to its full potential. Despite the many opportunities offered, many CARIFORUM States have not yet been able to translate market access for CARIFORUM goods and services into a meaningful presence in the EU market.
There are a number of operational and capacity constraints on the side of Caribbean economic operators, making it difficult to meet certain European technical and sanitary requirement and standards. These requirements and standards that have to be met by both European producers and all of the EU’s other trade partners, are aimed at protecting human and animal health as well as the environment.
We do, however, understand that complex legislative acts, technical regulations and standards and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures may be difficult to understand and reach. Therefore, from 2012 to 2017 the EU (through the 10th European Development Fund) provided EUR 46 million towards support in critical EPA areas such as assistance for the region’s services sector, addressing Technical Barriers to Trade Issues, Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures, the development of regional statistics, support for the rum industry, economic fiscal reforms, and capacity building. Under the 11th EDF, an additional EUR 21 million are being provided towards support in six areas: Innovation and Intellectual Property Rights, Technical Barriers to Trade, Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary measures, capacity building in the areas of competition; public procurement, customs and trade facilitation; and support for implementation of EPA and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) at the national level.
This support will contribute to improve the enabling environment for trade and investment by both the private and public sectors and unlock the numerous potential benefits this comprehensive trade and economic agreement offers. In addition, supporting CARIFORUM firms to leverage the CARIFORUM-EU EPA and to transform market access opportunities into real market penetration has been at the forefront of the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s work programme which is being funded by the European Union. Indeed, since 2010, around EUR 52 million have been dedicated to enhance the competitiveness and value of the Caribbean brands through the delivery of transformative and targeted interventions in export development and investment promotion.
In conclusion, making the EPA a success requires a collective effort. For this reason, we are and will continue working with our valued partners in the region (CARIFORUM Directorate, National EPA implementation Units, Caribbean Export and other Business Support Organisations) helping to overcome the challenges preventing Caribbean people and businesses to draw the fullest benefits from the agreement. And, as it appears, one of the challenges is to improve the awareness of the opportunities the EU-CARIFORUM EPA offers: an awareness not only among economic operators and businesses, but also among journalists and publicists, to prevent anyone from spreading essentially incorrect and false information about the agreement.