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Jamaicans not up to speed on EPA

Published:Wednesday | July 16, 2014 | 7:00 AM
Jesus Orus Baguena

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

JESUS ORUS Baguena, head of the European Union (EU) delegation to Jamaica is not convinced that policymakers and the private sector are up to speed on the full range of merits to be derived from the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), a landmark agreement.

Signed in December 2008, the CARIFORUM-EU EPA was the first such agreement to be signed between Europe, and one of the six signed with sub-regions of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. Some 27 European Union member states and 14 CARIFORUM states (except Haiti) were signatories to the document which replaced the Cotonou Agreement of 2000, in which the EU unilaterally granted ACP countries non-reciprocal market access to Europe on more favourable terms than those enjoyed by goods from other countries.

Red tape

Red tape in Jamaica, according to Baguena is still a major stumbling block to attracting business investments from the other side.

"Another area where I think the Government should probably pay more attention to is the whole area of investment. Now the EPA is not a cushion only of increasing trade, but increasing business linkages (and) as you know, there is not a lot of European investments, not a lot of European trade, compared to other regions with exception probably of the tourism sector," Baguena told The Gleaner.

He said it makes no sense complaining about formal barriers at the regional level when nothing is being done to simply address how business is done.

"Because, otherwise, even if you have the formal access guaranteed, if you don't have the business environment attractive, it will not happen," Baguena insisted. "Now the idea of having this agreement is precisely that, to create a lot of linkages also between local companies and European companies, which is important because, OK, the activities by a foreign company is good, but I think it is even better if you have a joint venture to take advantage of the trade regime or whatever it is and then you can take advantage."

He continued: "I think there is a need to sit down a little more strategically and see what different options are open for Jamaica; not just say we are just open, which is lazy argument ... if you want to say, well, it's a free-trade agreement so Europe, of course, is stronger so they will sell everything to the Caribbean and we will not be able to sell anything to Europe."

In fact, the EU head of delegation said it is a misconception that countries which have signed such EPAs would see their markets flooded with cheap European imports.

"If you look at the figures, it does not reflect the reality of what's going on, so I would like to encourage and I try to do that with my counterpart here in the Government - to explore the possibilities and the niches where the agreement can be beneficial for Jamaica."

He said the idea that the EU was motivated by self-interest in the EPAs is wrong, because European companies actually want integrated supply chains that build up processing in ACP countries, not barriers that prevent it.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com