Antigua Sun, Antigua
PM embraces reservations about EPA
28 July 2008
by Patricia Campbell
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer indicated that there are still lingering questions over whether Caricom countries will all sign on to the European Union-Cariforum Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) next month, though he has maintained his personal support for the idea of moving forward with the agreement.
PM Spencer, who also serves as Caricom chairman, said he and others feel that there is scope within the agreement for adjustments to be made to address some of the serious concerns expressed by leaders like Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo and regional figures such as Sir Shridath Ramphal and Professor Norman Girvan. Ramphal and Girvan have made it clear that they see little real benefit for the Caribbean in the EPA and have urged Caricom heads to renegotiate the terms of the agreement before signing on.
“There are issues there that are still occupying our attention that we are raising at the various halls of the EU and we will continue to do that. It will be a process of engagement that will continue to take place. Whether we sign off at the end of August... is still open.... But we are not saying to the world at this stage that we are not signing. We are not saying that. Yes, there are individual member territories that may have strong views about the matter, which they have expressed - Guyana, for example. President Jagdeo has clearly come out and said he has serious difficulties, but we are discussing the matter,” PM Spencer told the media on Friday.
Expressing his respect for Girvan and Ramphal, PM Spencer noted that both men have articulated their objections to the EPA in its current form in very strong and forceful terms and he made it clear that these concerns are not being ignored at the level of the Caricom heads.
“At the same time, however, I think one has to look at the totality of the situation and as it stands now, the understanding is that the Caribbean will sign off on the EPA sometime at the end of August,” he added. “Of course, in the meantime, dialogue is taking place.... We believe that the opportunity presents itself, even after signing this agreement, to be able to place ourselves in a position where we may be able to influence the situation a lot better than if we seek to demand that we must have changes before we sign off. So it’s a question of approach.”
He reiterated the argument being put forward by proponents of the EPA that there are mechanisms within the arrangement which would allow the Cariforum countries to review and adjust areas that are potentially harmful to regional trade interests, but acknowledged that some experts disagree and fear that the region would be locked into an unbeneficial agreement. With such strong disagreements, PM Spencer called the EPA decision a work in progress as leaders continue to weigh their options.
Despite the potentially polarising nature of the EPA disagreement, the prime minister does not consider the issue a threat to Caricom or to regionalism. He expressed the view that the EPA issue is not as divisive as some people have thought.
“The debate is useful. It’s extremely useful, in my view, because at the end of the day what it’s going to do is that all of us as leaders will have to be now mindful of how we’re going to proceed - even if we sign - how we’re going to proceed with these issues,” he said.