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Caribbean private sector lags in exploiting EU trade pact

By Peter Richards | Last updated: Apr 20, 2012 - 10:50:41 AM

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (IPS) - When Europe signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Caribbean Forum countries in 2008, the intention was to boost trade and services between the two regions.

But four years later, the Caribbean, particularly the private sector, is failing to take full advantage of many benefits of the deal, according to a new report by the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat EPA Implementation Unit.

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The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce recently completed a two-week trade mission to Europe as a follow up to an earlier study done “to ascertain the reasons hindering the private sector from trading under the EPA.”

The unit just completed a review of the legal framework governing investment flows between CARIFORUM, which includes the 15-member CARICOM grouping and the Dominican Republic, and the EU to evaluate their consistency with commitments in international agreements.

“Having a better appreciation of the realities in states is crucial to making decisions to ensure that the benefits to be derived under the agreement are obtained,” said the unit’s trade in services and investment specialist, S.H. Allyson Francis.

But while some of the unit’s findings were encouraging, they were tempered by stark assessments with respect to the EPA.

“Of note, the report underscored that there is little awareness of EPA/foreign direct investment (FDI) tied advantages among the private sector in CARIFORUM states and within the EU,” the report said.

Speaking at the second CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum here March 29, the head of the European Union delegation to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Valeriano Diaz, said he was surprised that the private sector in the region was not yet in a position to take full advantage of the EPA.

“Let me state clearly that ownership of the EPA in the Caribbean does not belong to the European Union; it is the purview of regional governments. They have to ensure that the legislative and other frameworks are in place so that the private sector, entrepreneurs and others can reap the benefits which the EPA offers,” Mr. Diaz said.

He said the private sector also has to get on board “instead of passively standing on the sidelines.

But at least one regional private sector grouping has shown its commitment to take advantage of the accord.

The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce recently completed a two-week trade mission to Europe as a follow up to an earlier study done “to ascertain the reasons hindering the private sector from trading under the EPA.”

The study revealed that there was a deficiency in awareness of the EPA and its provisions as well as little knowledge of the EU markets. It recommended that the Chamber undertake more sector-specific trade missions to Europe with the aim of seeking strategic partnerships for the business community and obtaining market intelligence.

At the end of the March 7 trade mission, the Trinidad and Tobago private sector said that initial feedback indicates “there are approximately 41 business leads with which local companies will have immediate following up, and the Chamber will take an active role in also following up with these companies so that we can measure the tangible benefits of this mission.”

It said that throughout the trade mission it promoted Trinidad and Tobago as a gateway to the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Ironically, even though the EPA agreement was signed in 2008, the Trinidad and Tobago parliament has not ratified the accord. The private sector group here said it was urging the government “to push the laying of the bill on the Parliamentary agenda.”

The European Union provided more than $100 million to CARICOM that the regional bloc’s Secretary General Irwin La Rocque said came at a time when regional governments were determined to ensure that integration delivers tangible results to Caribbean people.

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