Bahamas: CARICOM countries seeking October date to sign on to EPA

Publication date: 9/17/2008

Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance Zhivargo Laing said yesterday that The Bahamas is set along with 12 CARICOM member countries to sign on to the Eco-nomic Partnership Agree-ment (EPA) by mid-October. Contrary to what has been reported previously, The Bahamas has never signed on to anything related to the EPA, but after careful consideration and several efforts to educate the public about its benefits, Minister Laing said the Government is now ready to sign.

Laing, who recently attended the 14th Special Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community on September 10 in Sher-bourne Centre, Barbados, is certain that signing onto the agreement will allow The Bahamas to enjoy all the benefits without harming any part of the Bahamian economy and that it just makes good sense to do so.

In an interview with The Freeport News yesterday, Laing said at the meeting, 12 out of 14 CARICOM countries agreed that they will sign onto to the agreement and insisted that leaders from these countries came to the meeting with a determination to sign on. He said only two countries did not want to agree and they were Guyana and Haiti.

He noted that in the case of Haiti, this country could not agree because its representative indicated a need to brief the president, who would ultimately make the determination on whether they would sign or not. In the case of Guyana, he said the country's leaders indicated that they were only prepared to sign a 'goods and services agreement' and would only consider doing so if what is known as the 'Singapore issues' were left out the agreement. Singapore issues, Minister Laing clarified, relate to Government procurement, property rights and investments...

Nevertheless, after listening to the concerns of Guyana, the Heads agreed that they wanted to go ahead and sign onto EPA because there was nothing new placed on the table by Guyana and that the issues raised did not represent any fundamental need for change. "So they felt that there was nothing to prohibit them from signing onto the agreement and agreed to seek a mid-October date to sign on to the agreement with the European Union," Minister Laing said.

"We already benefit from a preference access to Europe's market. Our lobsters, rum producers, Polymers Interna-tional, we want to preserve that access for them and the business that they have." Minister Laing went on to say that the Government believes that it is worth staying in a business which feeds hundreds of Bahamians. Furthermore, he said the EPA offers The Bahamas beneficial preference access to Europe's market and Europe, he added, is one of the most lucrative and wealthy markets in the world.

"We want Bahamians to continue to have the best of that market and to be able to have the potential to service that market and create even more jobs, to earn even more profits to feed more families and to realize their own potential by doing so," he said. "We have enjoyed a trade relationship with Europe going on now for some 25 years. Europe is a very important global market. We want to continue to have a good relationship with Europe and signing on enables us to do just that."

In the past, former colonies of Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific were given duty free access to Europe for their exported goods. This was done through several agreements known as the LOME conventions and the CONTONOU Agreement.

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) was initiated last December in Barbados and replaces the trade provisions of the Cotonou Agreement which expired at the end of 2007. It was negotiated between the European Union and Cariforum, which comprises the Cari-com Countries (Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic.

The EPA seeks to establish a new trading arrangement between the EU and CARIFORUM countries which is compatible with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The EPA has six objectives which include: poverty eradication; regional integration; integration of CARIFORUM states into the world economy; supporting conditions for investment and private sector development; improving capacity in trade and; trade related issues and strengthening the existing relationship between CARIFORUM and Europe.

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