Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Caribbean dilemma over EU rush for new deal

Published:Monday | April 15, 2019 | 12:18 AM

Clouds of concern hang over today’s meeting in Kingston between the European Union (EU) and Caribbean negotiators who feel that the 28-member bloc is rushing the process to seal a deal to replace the expiring Cotonou Agreement that underpins development cooperation between the two regions.

But the negotiators are also trapped in a dilemma as they do not want to upset their European counterparts too much, given that changes later this year to the European Commission, the EU arm that deals with development issues, could mean less political support to work out the most favourable agreement with the region.

The Kingston talks involve ministers of CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic), one of the three regions making up Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). The EU is being led by its chief negotiator, Neven Mimica. While there will be a main agreement between the EU-ACP, it is anticipated that there will be region-specific ones, too.

Negotiations started seven months ago in September 2018, and the EU is pushing for a new deal to be inked by July 2019. The ACP group, though, is nervous about wrapping up the process for a 20-year agreement within less than a year.

“The ACP and Caribbean are of the view that the schedule cannot be maintained given the current status of negotiations,” read a leaked CARICOM document, “given the areas of divergence remaining on many areas of the text of the foundation agreement”.

According to the report, the “anxious” EU is insisting on maintaining the schedule for two main reasons. The EU is concerned that the composition of the commission, at the personnel level, will change after July 2019 and is, therefore, pushing for the negotiations to be completed under Mimica’s stewardship.

Additionally, EU parliamentary elections will be held next month, and the commission had an objective to have the negotiations concluded before so that the current Parliament could approve it.

While Caribbean leaders say they are concerned about the rush and the potential impact on working out a satisfactory deal, they are also mindful that standing strong against the EU may not be in their interest as the potential changes after July could mean dwindling political support. Rise in anti-aid attitudes and budget cuts also pose problems for the region.

meeting timeline

It is why Jamaica and Barbados have expressed concerns that meeting the July timeline is key to both parties, according to the leaked paper. Additionally, the CARIFORUM plans to “leverage the EU’s declared urgency in concluding post-Cotonou negotiations to secure positive outcomes for CARIFORUM”.

That posture was expected to be endorsed during a caucus of the ministers yesterday.

Both the EU and the ACP have already drawn up work on peace and security, human and social development, and climate change. CARICOM says negotiations on the region-specific ACP Agreements with the EU have not started.

The 20-year Cotonou Partnership Agreement, the legal framework ruling relations between the EU and 79 ACP countries, expires next year.

On the sidelines of today’s meeting at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, Mimica is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Andrew Holness and sign two financing agreements with Jamaica valued at almost J$3 billion for Jamaica’s forestry and finance reform.

editorial@gleanerjm.com