EDITORIAL: The EPA – rise and fall of hopes after five years
The Barbados-based European Union Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Mr Mikael Barfod, last week provided an assessment of the EU’s trade and economic relations with the region as he reflected on five years of operations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that involves all independent member states of CARIFORUM – CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic.
Barbados was the venue of choice for the historic EPA signing, the first to have been successfully concluded among the 79 member countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region, many of them yet to complete negotiations for mutually satisfactory accords.
A year ago this month, secretary general of CARICOM, Irwin LaRocque, had announced plans to begin a thorough review of the first five years of operations of the EPA with CARIFORUM countries. The review became necessary following expressed reservations first raised by the then President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo.
LaRocque had stated: “We believe that the best agreement we can reach with Europe is one that is based on a spirit of mutual understanding and trust, devoid of any form of coercion . . . .”
While we await the outcome of this promised ‘review’, it’s relevant to note that Mr Barfod spoke with much optimism for continuing good relations between the EU and CARIFORUM when he met with media representatives this past week.
The EU’s envoy was candid in recalling that, at the outset, it was recognized that to be “successful”, the EPA had to reflect understanding that “development cooperation is a crucial element in this new trade partnership,given the lack of capacity in the Caribbean region . . .”.
Regrettably, as he sees it, while the EPA identifies “several cooperation priorities” that must first be translated into “specific proposals”, administrations of the CARIFORUM group have been “lacking in proactive responses” including what would “ultimately benefit these countries”.
The cynics may say that assessment could hardly be viewed as an enthusiastic response from the head of the EU’s Delegation to the Eastern Caribbean, while reaffirming Europe’s commitment to help CARIFORUM countries attain the stated objectives in the promotion of “regional integration, economic cooperation and good governance”.
It is therefore all the more urgent for the people of CARIFORUM countries to benefit from the “review” of the first five years of the EPA as originally promised by secretary general LaRocque, given the rise and fall of hopes following the historic 2008 accord.