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Delays persist in EU accreditation for architects

Published:Friday | December 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Architect Robert Woodstock. - File photos
Architect Christopher Whyms-Stone.

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Jamaican architects and their counterparts in other Cariforum countries are still waiting for the signing of a mutual recognition agreement which would allow them to ply their trade in European Union (EU) countries.

Word from the EU secretariat in Jamaica is that a regional accreditation body is being set up to enable trade in this service between the EU and member states of CARICOM, plus the Dominican Republic.

No timeline has been given for the completion of the process to establish the body.

Caribbean professionals in 29 sectors have already been granted access to the EU market once they win a contract.

The regional accreditation body, once operational, will test that arrangement.

"The basis for eligibility is that an applicant should have a qualification from an accredited course in architecture, be registered in his/her home country and should have completed a minimum 12 years of education, training and practice in the field of architecture, of which three shall be certified professional practice experience," said Robert Woodstock, the immediate past chairman of the Association of Commonwealth Societies of Architects in the Caribbean (ACSAC) and chairman of the Practice Committee of the Jamaican Institute of Architects (JIA).

Woodstock has been part of efforts to create a united regional body for the profession.

"Certified professional practice experience is to confirm that the applicant has been practising architecture and thereby maintaining registration requirements including, but not limited to, fulfilling continuing professional development and professional indemnity insurance requirements," he said.

In the meantime, funding has been provided through the Jamaica Coalition of Services Industries for the Cariforum office to hire three specialist consultants to engage the architectural bodies within Cariforum in negotiating mutual recognition with Europe.

The consultants started work in October this year and are to present their findings in December.

But even so, some Jamaican architects are not optimistic that, having signed on, the deal will result in real gains for regional professionals.

Woodstock is of the view that, in practice, a high level of EU market penetration, by Cariforum architects, is not likely to happen.

His view is based on the observation that foreign clients hire foreign architects when working in Jamaica and Jamaicans requiring architectural services, who are much fewer than EU clients, hire foreign architects if and when working in the EU.

"It is likely to benefit in a shoestring type of way, where the Cariforum architect would assist with the stamping of drawings and minor contract work (but) the major part of an architectural commission, that is, the design, will remain with their EU architect," said Woodstock.

A former JIA president and partner in Cornerstone Design in Kingston, Christopher Whyms-Stone, noted that an international code of ethics, which supports the use of local architects on projects of an international origin, has been consistently ignored locally.

"We in the English-speaking Caribbean have a very small number of architects compared to what may be over a million in the EU," said Whyms-Stone.

He added that while there are big EU companies doing projects in Jamaica, with architects from their region, there are no regional companies constructing buildings in Europe.

But all hope is not lost for Whyms-Stone.

"There are firms from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean which have done work alongside larger firms in the EU, butnote that the long-standing Union Internationales des Architects has not been implemented here, as it has been in the United States and other nations," he said.

Cariforum states, according to Woodstock, have liberalised architecture, among other business services, with a hope that this will lead to increased investment in the region in order to develop new service industries.

The liberalisation is governed by the Cariforum-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The EPA includes provisions for trade in goods and services, investment, as well as trade-related areas.

Even as negotiations continue for a Mutual Recognition Agreement, there exists the thorny issue of who should sign on behalf of Cariforum architects.

"The Architects Council of Europe is an organisation, representing 47 member organisations, including regulatory bodies and professional associations of the European Union," Woodstock said, noting that there is no similar umbrella body in the Caribbean.

Some of the many organisations representing architects in the region include the Association of Commonwealth Societies, the College of Dominican Engineers, Architects and Land Surveyors in the Dominican Republic, the Federation of Caribbean Associations of Architects; and the Unie van Architecten in Suriname.

What is needed, according to Woodstock, is a true regional body, supported by intraregional agreements and qualifications, legislation, and practice requirements which are synchronised so that the region would be in a better position to negotiate with its European counterpart.