New Challenges Face Caribbean Partnership Agreement

Source: The Jamaica Observer

Finally the on-and-off official signing ceremony for a full Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Caribbean and the European Union (EU) is over.
The divisions that surfaced among proponents and antagonists for a delay to make it a more improved partnership will linger, as rancour from passionate debates slowly evaporate with the passage of time.
For now, as Guyana prepares to add its signature this week to those of last Wednesday’s 13 at the Sherbourne Conference Centre in Barbados, with Haiti’s to come much later, the question of immediate relevance is: How prepared are the 15 CARIFORUM countries (Caricom’s 14 and the Dominican Republic) for what may well prove more challenging than what took more than four years to negotiate, the implementation process of this new historic relationship being forged with Europe?

Barbados’ feisty Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business, Chris Sinckler – once a leading opponent of the EPA when he served as executive director of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) – may well have reflected a widely shared sentiment when he noted in his feature address at the EPA signing ceremony: “This is a highly complex and comprehensive agreement (250 articles covering some 2,000 pages), and the effort needed to implement it will be at times more onerous than that spent negotiating it…”
It is an observation with which the key actors of both the European Commission (executive arm of the EU) and the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) who were directly involved, with ministerial inputs, as well as their critics could concur.
Even, that is, as one side insists that the signed EPA document represents “the best deal we could have”, and others hold it up as a “flawed agreement” of contentious clauses, including trade and services.
As the secretary general of Caricom and CARIFORUM, Edwin Carrington, had earlier stressed, “What this new economic partnership now demands of us, CARIFORUM and EC, more than ever, is prudent and effective implementation by all parties…”
This, of course, is easier said than done, since lingering problems and challenges that could impede implementation, once the process begins, seem to involve more than philosophical and administrative differences among members of the governing regional directorate to judge by public statements and posturing well before signing of the EPA.
There is also, let’s admit, the need to speedily remove prevailing ‘bad blood’ between the CRNM and the Caricom secretariat to ensure a more open collaborative effort in the best interest of the Community.
There are undoubtedly good people in both who now should be encouraged to work more in harmony and avoid the conflicts over turf that have so often arisen and which Caricom leaders have failed to resolve. Initiatives for a sensible resolution should begin before the start of coming negotiations on trade and development with Canada, and later in 2009, with the United States of America.
For a start, there must be recognition that a significant difference exists between the European Commission (EC), empowered with executive authority, to function in the interest of the European Union member states and that of the Caricom secretariat that does not come near to enjoying such a mandate.
The EC negotiates and implements. The Caricom/CARIFORUM secretariat is invariably left to implement what’s negotiated by the CRNM, albeit not in isolation but with the assistance of a “college of negotiators” and in consultation with the Council on Trade and Economic Development and accountable to the Community’s prime ministerial subcommittee on external economic negotiations.
Had Caricom heads of government, past and present, summoned the courage to implement a visionary programme for effective governance of the business of the region’s integration scheme, about which they have been well advised, some of today’s problems relating to the functioning of the CRNM and the Community secretariat would not exist.
As things are, the CARIFORUM secretariat functions out of the Caricom secretariat in Georgetown, under the same secretary general; while the CRNM is not even officially listed as a treaty-based “institution” of our 15-member community and has no legal obligation to be accountable to the secretariat.
By virtue of an arrangement in place under its first chief negotiator, Sir Shridath Ramphal, the CRNM reports directly to the prime ministerial subcommittee on external negotiations which in turn reports to the heads of government as the supreme organ of the community.
Intellectual fitness and goodwill have combined to enable collective gains in dealing with the World Trade Organisation, Europe and North America but the time seems to be now to come to terms with deficiencies in the functional relationship between the CRNM and the Caricom secretariat, but without incorporating the former into the latter.

At the same time, the current corps of “wise men” comprising the heads of government conference as the primary organ of Caricom should accept that they are doing an injustice to the region’s economic integration movement by their continued failure to impose a new administrative architecture that extends executive empowerment to the Secretariat.

To its credit, the European Union has already concluded arrangements for some euro 40 million to assist in the implementation processes in the interest of the regional economic integration scheme as this pertains to both the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the EPA with Europe.

Which one takes precedence or how complementary figures in the implementation of both CSME and EPA may unfold in the months ahead, bearing in mind that the CSME is targeted for inauguration in 2015 but the so-called “implementation deficit”, remains quite huge, including harmonisation of legislation.
Consequently, when both Secretary General Carrington and Foreign Minister Sinckler pointed – as they did last week – to having effective implementation arrangements in place for the EPA, it is to be assumed that they would consider deeply in mind how to sensibly proceed in making the single economy component of the CSME a reality.
People across this region who still struggle to keep hope alive for regional economic integration and unity, in the face of a rising tide of cynicism and doubts, should keep monitoring the performance of the Caricom governments and how new forms of cooperation between the community secretariat and CRNM could strengthen coming negotiations with Canada, and later the USA.


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