ACP irrelevant Caricom at risk

Antigua Sun
Monday October 13 2008

Notwithstanding a decision by the meeting of heads of government of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group in Ghana on 2 & 3 Oct., to appoint a troika to “engage in high-level consultations” on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), several Caribbean countries will sign a full agreement on Wednesday.

The two Caribbean countries that have said they will not are Guyana and Haiti.

In the process, the largest active group of developing countries faces disintegration. It is a sad time for developing countries for they have lost the only strength they had – their unity in negotiating with the larger and more powerful nations of Europe.

At the end of the Ghana meeting, the Prime Minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Peter Pinda, observed that, “it is regrettable and disturbing that while the EU comprising the big economies continue to expand its membership, the negotiations under EPAs are deliberately forcing the ACP groups and regional economic communities to disintegrate." His observation is perfectly correct. But, the ACP has only itself to blame.

While it is true that Caribbean countries were under no compulsion to sign the EPA on Wednesday, and they could have waited for the consultations of the ACP troika, the split in the ACP did not begin with the Caribbean. It was the former French colonies of Africa that began the process by agreeing to the separation of Africa into four separate negotiating groups. To the Caribbean’s credit, its representatives tried to preserve ACP unity. Had the ACP stood-up, the EU would not have succeeded in separating them.

The ACP was also not proactive enough in trying to use its existing structures for information-sharing and coordination once the separate negotiations began. Even though their aspirations would have been different, they could, at least, have sought to take account of the special needs of some of their member states and to demand, in unison, that those needs be met.

The EU prevailed because it acted as one, the ACP failed because it allowed itself to be divided.

Now, any prospect of achieving another of the objectives identified by the ACP summit is also blowing in the wind. That objective was “to pursue the consideration of the creation of an ACP Free Trade Area (FTA)." The idea of an ACP FTA came far too late. It should have been pursued in advance of negotiations with the EU for an EPA. But, again, the wording of the objective shows how little broad-based political will there was for it in the ACP. All that the leaders agreed to do was to pursue “the consideration” of the FTA. The EU and others could have wanted no better indication of the lack of resolve by the ACP.

In the event, by deciding to sign a full EPA with the EU without the benefit of discussion by the ACP troika (of which the current chairman of Caricom would have been a part), Caribbean countries, with the exception of Guyana and Haiti, demonstrated scant regard for Africa and the Pacific. In the process, they confirmed the observation of the Tanzanian president that the EPAs are forcing the disintegration not only of the ACP but of regional economic communities (such as Caricom).

This latter point about Caricom should not be lightly brushed aside, for there is nothing in the EPA that allows the provisions of the Caricom Treaty to take precedence over the clauses of the EPA should a conflict arise. In this connection, the individual relationship of Caribbean countries to the EU (and, incidentally, to the Dominican Republic) will override the Caricom Treaty.

In this regard, it is worth noting that while the OECS countries and Belize receive special and differential treatment from Guyana,

Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad & Tobago under the Caricom Treaty, they get no special treatment under the EPA from the EU. Eventually, they will all have to give full reciprocal treatment to the EU for trade in goods and services.

The OECS countries exhibited remarkable loyalty to the larger Caricom states in the EPA negotiations. They might have achieved more concessions given their micro size and greater vulnerabilities to exogenous shocks had they too negotiated separately.

The effect on the OECS was one of Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo expressed concerns when he demurred from signing a full EPA.

He argued for two things: a mandatory review of the EPA within five years to remedy harm that it might do to Caribbean economies; and the supremacy of the Caricom Treaty over the EPA if a conflict developed. This proposition was put to Caribbean leaders by the Cariocm secretary-general and to the European Commission after the ACP meeting.

At the time of writing, it is not known whether Jagdeo’s two concerns received a favourable response from either the EU or Caribbean leaders, although the Caribbean leadership should have fully embraced both points in the interest both of developing the Caribbean Single Market and Economy and of halting any consequential disintegrating tendencies within Caricom. If the proposal didn’t receive a favourable response, it will account for why Jagdeo does not join other Caribbean leaders in signing the EPA on Wednesday.

Guyana might eventually have to concede to the EPA in the absence of support, but its resistance to an EPA it regards as lopsided and its efforts to preserve the supremacy of regionalism have won it respect in Europe and the Caribbean.

As for the ACP, sadly it is now almost an irrelevant organisation. It is no longer a significant influencer of trade arrangements with the EU; if it is to play any role in the wider trade negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) much work will have to be done by visionary leaders to inspire it. That possibility now looks most unlikely.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a former Caribbean diplomat, now a corporate executive who publishes widely on small states in the international community. You may write to Sir Ronald Sanders at:

The above opinions are not necessarily those of the publisher, newspaper, its advertisers or employees.

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