Tucked away towards the end of the economic partnership agreement (EPA) that will be signed Wed-nesday in Barbados between the Caribbean and Europe is a section that deals with what are known as the institutional arrangements.
This seemingly dry legal text is in fact of considerable importance, not least because it will determine how the EPA is governed, who will benefit, and how decisions will be made on its implementation. It will also determine the extent to which the private sector, non-governmental bodies and others in civil society will be able to influence and monitor the direction of the agreement.
It, therefore, lies at the heart of whether the agreement can be made to operate to the benefit of the people of the region and will determine how much control the Caribbean has over its practical implementation, and in theory, the flow of associated development assistance.
Conversely, it could become yet another layer of bureaucracy taxing public- and private-sector officials alike, who, in the absence of any regional executive authority, are already overburdened with overfrequent and often poorly attended interregional meetings.
The institutional arrangements are also of importance because they touch on Caribbean sovereignty and less directly, the relationship between the EPA and the all-ACP Cotonou Convention with Europe.
To explain, the Caribbean EPA creates four new bodies: a ministerial level joint CARIFORUM - EC council that will deal with policy and decisions; an implementing CARIFORUM-EC trade and development committee at the level of officials; a joint CARIFORUM-EC parliamentary committee for political debate; and a CARIFORUM-EC consultative committee that aims to involve the private sector and other social partners.
The joint CARIFORUM council is intended to supervise politically the implementation of the agreement. It will involve representatives of Caribbean and EU states (ministers or ambassadors), plus the European Commission meeting at least every two years.
It is intended that this body will oversee the operation and implementation of the EPA, monitor the delivery of its objectives and take all necessary decisions.
In effect, it will be the supreme governing body able to examine any major issue or conflict between what has been agreed and any other development that might affect the delivery of the agreement.
It will be this body that will be able to address the bigger concerns that have been raised about the EPA in recent months.
The text - for some controversially - makes clear that this new body will have the power to take decisions in respect of all matters covered by the agreement. These, it notes, will "be binding on the Parties and the Signatory CARIFORUM States, which shall take all the measures necessary to implement them in accordance with each Party's and Signatory CARIFORUM State's internal rules".
However, it also recognises that individual Caribbean states may not agree. While it suggests that in matters for which signatory CARIFORUM states agree to act collectively, the joint council shall adopt decisions and recommendations by mutual agreement, it also makes clear that when it comes to matters on which signatory CARIFORUM states have not agreed to act collectively, the adoption of any decision shall require the agreement of the states concerned.
In other words, it envisages a Caribbean able to act politically by consensus in the context of EPA decision making both collectively and individually.
While some believe that this could cede elements of Caribbean sovereignty to this body, what is less understood is that in agreeing to the same collective decision making, Europe, too, has done the same, suggesting that in reality, no one is going to agree to implement any measure that undercuts either party's decision-making ability.
At one step down, there will be a joint CARIFORUM trade and development committee, which will "assist the joint council in the performance of its duties" and will consist normally of senior officials.
In practical terms, this is the EPA governing body that will involve senior officials from the EC and the region and on request, will look at issues relating to the EPA's management and its objectives.
Here the text is much more specific. The committee will in the area of trade supervise and be responsible for the implementation and application of the agreement.
It will also discuss and recommend cooperation priorities, oversee understanding of the provisions of the EPA, and evaluate its results.
This body will also deal with dispute avoidance and resolution in relation to the interpretation and application of the agreement and be charged with monitoring and discussing almost every other trade aspect of the EPA.
Put in more accessible language, this means that when it comes to the development component, this body will monitor and review the implementation of the cooperation provisions in the agreement, and in theory, coordinate such action with third-party donors.
It will also be able to establish special committees or bodies and in theory, meet at any time, but at least once a year, for an overall review of the EPA.
Dialogue and cooperation
In order to try to make this process subject to democratic control, the EPA envisages the creation of a CARIFORUM-EC parliamentary committee in which members of the European Parliament and the CARIFORUM legislatures can meet and exchange views. This body, it seems, will have the right to ask the other bodies questions and make recommendations to the joint council and the joint trade and development committee.
And finally, there is a Cariforum-EC consultative committee which is intended somewhat nebulously to assist the council promote dialogue and cooperation between representatives of organisations of civil society, including the academic community, and social and economic partners. Membership will be at the invitation of the council.
What is much less clear is how this final body is meant to function, when and where it will meet, and who will pay. It also seems that unless Caribbean governments ensure from the outset that this consultative committee is given a clear basis to relate to the other EPA institutions, they will be able to be less than responsive to those whom the EPA is meant to advantage.
All of which points to the need for those outside the public sector to begin to ask how the bodies that lie at the heart of EPA implementation will function practically and where the responsibility for implementation in the region will be located.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council. Email: david.jessop@caribbean-coun cil.org.