July 18, 2008
PM Gonsalves raises concerns, but ready to sign on to EPA


As subsidies, protection and trade incentives for vulnerable small states prepare to crumble worldwide, this country’s Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves appears to be crying foul.{{more}}

Addressing the opening of a two-week Foreign Heads of Missions consultation here on Monday, the prime minister affirmed that trade liberalisation poses much difficulty for developing countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Dr Gonsalves alluded to external changes in modern globalisation and trade liberalisation that is forcing this country to make a number of amendments to its foreign policy.

Trade Liberalisation, which involves reciprocity, he added, puts developing countries in a disadvantageous position from where they were.

The prime minister said that trade liberalisation between unequal countries should not give rise to reciprocity but instead proportionality.

However, despite the uneven playing field in international trade, the prime minister believes there are benefits vulnerable countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines can glean from the changing face of trade liberalisation.

“Our response to modern globalisation can be one of acceptance and rolling over and playing dead, or we can have a policy of creative engagement where we can tap into modern globalisation for the benefits and to reduce as far as possible the burdens inherent in that particular process,” Dr. Gonsalves said while addressing the meeting of foreign heads, Monday.

The concerns raised by the prime minister seem to be the disquietude among some Caricom heads, particularly Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo who continues to hold out on the proposed signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement between the European Union and CARIFORUM (Caricom and the Dominican Republic).

“The real threat from Europe is that if we do not sign on to the EPA, the general system of preferences will enter the picture in a way disadvantageous to us, including our bananas… so many of us go towards the signing of the EPA with our right hand on our heart …” Gonsalves acknowledged.

Facing up to the inevitably crumbling quota free access to European markets, Gonsalves is keenly looking at alternative trading arrangements available within the EPA framework.

“We are not to over sell it, (the EPA) but we have to look at what are the alternatives available to us,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister outlined that the trade arrangements under the EPA will have a delayed reciprocity to accommodate Cariforum members making the necessary adjustments on trade and revenue matters.

This is believed to be the comforting ‘special’ arrangement Cariforum members are clinging to as the closest thing to a ‘proportional system’ within the proposed EPA trade pact.

Reservations on the proposed signing of the EPA continue to swell across the region, with the most recent condemnation coming from Jamaica’s former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

A number of noted Caribbean academics, including Professor Norman Girvan and Havelock Brewster, have publicly lashed out at the arrangement, warning of serious implications if Caricom states sign on without proper review and consultation.

Incidentally, a recent report commissioned by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has cast some doubt over the proposed EPAs, labelling it as “anti-development”, noting that the “basis for the negotiations should be re-thought so that there is a greater emphasis on social and economic development”.

With what appears to be the Caribbean region being trapped under the rubble of crumbling trade protection and preferences, this country’s prime minister, though seemingly concerned, remains hopeful and ready to ink his signature to the trade pact, along with Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, with the hope that other Caricom member states would follow suit.