The Caribbean-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is, in its present form, one-sided and will only favour the developed and more stable European countries, contends Jamaican-born economist Dr. Norman Girvan who is well known for his scholarship and public advocacy on issues relating to Caribbean development and integration.
The 14-member CARICOM community group and the Dominican Republic signed off on the controversial trade pact with the 27-member EU a year ago. Opponents claim it will render small Caribbean businesses powerless to compete with large European companies and also lock the region into an agreement that will lose its relevance as the world evolves.
In a presentation titled, “The CARIFORUM-EU EPA Negotiations: The Wrong Train”, which was delivered at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies last week, Dr. Girvan argued that the agreement limits the policy space of Caribbean governments to engage in development policies to foment local industries, preempts the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), which is the Caribbean community’s integration movement, and compromises the Caribbean’s upcoming negotiations with Canada and the United States.
“The course of the negotiations was characterized by certain key decision points that are identifiable moments in time,” said Girvan, a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of the West Indies Graduate Institute of International Relations at the St. Augustine campus in Trinidad. “The critical issues at these decision points were those of definition and interpretation of what was required for World Trade Organization (WTO) compatibility.
“At these decision points, the unequal bargaining power between Europe and the CARIFORUM countries, which is a contextual factor in any negotiation between rich and poor countries, becomes a strategy of divide and conquer and the carrot and the stick that were used to a great extent in deciding the outcome.”
Girvan suggested the CARIFORUM countries were led to believe they would secure special benefits by becoming the first region in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group to negotiate a full WTO-plus EPA.
“The Caribbean countries were promised an opening of the services industry for the export of services for their countries; the CARIFORUM negotiators were led to believe that by being the first to conclude such an agreement, they would be strategically placed to access aid funds from Europe’s aid-for-trade envelope; and that the agreement to their WTO-plus provisions would enhance the investment climate of CARIFORUM countries and therefore serve to attract foreign investment,” he said.
“They were told that if they didn’t sign, tariffs would be imposed and that their banana, sugar and manufacturing exports would be disrupted. The banana, sugar and manufacturing industries began to press CARIFORUM governments, saying you must sign this agreement and you will get some extra aid that the Africans, who are far behind you, will not be able to access.”
Girvan said the EPA is more than a free trade agreement, adding it extends beyond goods to a range of services and policy areas, including customs administration, investors’ treatment, intellectual property, competition policy and public procurement.
“This is an agreement that has the force of international treaty law and there are clear procedures spelt out in the event of non-compliance which, if they go to arbitration and it goes against the offending party, could give the non-offender the right to impose trade sanctions,” he said. “This is an agreement with teeth and my argument is that the devil of the agreement is in the details.
“Although, in the text of the agreement, there are references to development cooperation to assist these (CARIFORUM) countries — which are of much lower levels of development – to upgrade their productive, administrative and regulatory capacities, none of these commitments which are made in the text are quantified or time bound and therefore they are virtually impossible to legally enforce.
“This is very important because the defenders of the agreement – including the EU negotiators – say, ‘but you are getting all of this development co-operation’. I say the devil is in the fine print when you get down to the fine print.”
Girvan said that more time should have been given to the Caribbean public for consultation and input based on the agreement’s complexity and comprehensiveness.
He also said that opposition to the EPA, though it did not succeed in forcing the CARIFORUM governments to renegotiate, exposed the agreement to public scrutiny.
“There was a far better understanding because the media, opposition parties, civil society and labour unions got involved and people got a much better understanding of the implications of this agreement,” said Girvan, a former secretary-general of the Association of Caribbean States.
Guyana was the only country to express concern about the EPA in its current form. President Bharrat Jagdeo suggested it could undermine the CSME and result in Caribbean countries having to consult with the EU on decisions surrounding the CSME.
“Guyana stood up and stood out because they wanted to restrict the agreement to one which was limited to merchandise trade,” said Girvan. “They did not get the support of other governments in that endeavour, but what they did succeed in getting was a mandatory review provision which said that within five years, the effect of the agreement will be subjected to a review and renegotiation if necessary.
“Now, that again is a question of definition and interpretation. What does a review mean, how wide can it go, how comprehensive can the negotiations be?”
Girvan quoted Trinidad-born poet, novelist and sugar industry advocate, Ian McDonald, who splits time between Guyana and the Greater Toronto Area, who said, “We were forced to board a train going in one direction and then allowed to run along the train’s corridor in the opposite direction and boast how fast and well we ran.”
African and Pacific countries have also balked at signing the trade deal with the EU.
Ugandan-born policymaker, political activist and educator, Yashpal Tandon, who spoke at the event that was part of the University of Toronto’s Centre for International Studies African Studies seminar series, is not surprised.
“There are two important ingredients in the Euro-African relationship,” he said. “One is the deeply rooted asymmetrical power relations and the second is that those relationships that are built historically are deeply entrenched and embedded into our institutions and culture. So when the bureaucrats from Africa or the Caribbean negotiate with their counterparts from Europe, they have a certain method of discourse which is similar…The colonially constructed language influences negotiations to this day.”
Dr. Alissa Trotz, the director of the Caribbean Studies program at the University of Toronto, chaired the event.
Guyana and Venezuela recently agreed to nominate Girvan to mediate efforts at settling the longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries.
Girvan politely declined to speak about the nomination when approached by Share for a comment.