Trade and investment officials from the Caribbean, Europe and Africa have converged in London this week to seek ways to implement the Economic Partnership Agreement signed by most countries of the region in 2008.
They are staging what is called the 2nd Cariforum-EU Business Forum under the theme “Making the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement Work”.
Keynote speaker at the opening ceremony, Jamaica’s Minister for Industry, Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, lamented the slow implementation of the EPA in the region adding that it was hindered more so by visa restrictions places on a number of Caribbean countries wanting to enter Europe.
He elaborated at a press conference following the opening ceremony on Wednesday morning.
“It was aptly stated that the UK is the crossroads for trade with Europe and yet the UK has imposed even transit visas so that you can’t even transit the UK into the rest of Europe,” Hylton pointed out.
He added, “I think that’s really a bind constraint and I think that if Europe is serious it would have to deal with it.”
Other concerns include what Minister Hylton refers to as technical barriers to trade and the shifting phytosanitary regulations imposed on the Caribbean by most European countries. Currently the standards are unilaterally set by Europe without any input by the Caribbean.
This Hylton says has to be changed in order to affect a true partnership where all parties are equal.
“The extent to which the EPA delivers is the extent of the quality of the engagement. If we continue to engage at the level where we talk partnership and act unilaterally, then it wouldn’t develop; it wouldn’t mature into anything.”
In response to the expressed concerns, Policy Officer for Caribbean-EU Trade Relations in the European Commission Alexander Walford said while the EU is not prepared to revisit or revise the EPA, it is open to discuss the concerns of the Caribbean at its upcoming senior Officials meeting in September and again at the Ministerial meeting in October.
“On the specific issue of visas, we recognize that that does cause problems for some that are trying to access the EU market. But even there there has been some progress; the Schengen-Staten Visa waiver regime has been extended and the European Union is looking to see which countries can be added from the region – if any.”
“Unfortunate the Uk and Ireland remain outside of that arrangement so they have their own policy and again there we can look at the obstacles that are arising.”
UK Minister of State in the Department of International Development Alan Duncan, in welcoming delegates at Wednesday’s opening ceremony said the Caribbean remains important to the UK and his country is committed to its development.
“The UK is demonstrating our continued commitment to the Caribbean. Our bilateral assistance to the region has increased to 75-million pounds in the four years to 2015 with different support focused on three broad areas – growth and job creation, crime and corruption and climate change and natural disasters.”
Walford said that on the issue of standards the EU is aware that they can be challenging for Caribbean exporters to meet but added that the EU is providing ‘substantial’ financial assistance to Caribbean exporters through the regional standards body.
He said many of the standards are privately set between supplier and purchaser and as such the scope for intervention on a political scale is limited.
This forum, happening on the fringes of the 2012 London Olympic, has brought together approximately 200 trade and investment delegates from across the Caribbean, Europe and Africa, with the aim of creating more inter-regional partnerships, that would bolster the implementation and execution of the EPA.
The Forum also includes a trade exhibition.