CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque has cautioned the Jamaican and other regional governments not to be casual in their approach to addressing Europe's demand to reduce customs duties on goods imported from that territory.
His warning came against the background of a report out of Belgium last week, attributed to Alexander Walford, policy officer in charge of Caribbean-European Union trade relations, which said the EU was growing impatient with Jamaica for failing to honour its obligations under the European Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Under the agreement, signed in 2008, Jamaica and 14 other Caribbean states agreed to start the reduction of customs duties by January 2011, but only six have so far complied, Walford has said.
LaRocque, addressing journalists at a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, New Kingston, on Friday, said the Guyana-based secretariat was assisting member states of CARICOM in "getting the correct legislation drafted" but noted that the bigger problem was that member states feared loss of revenue from lowering the tariffs.
"But the EU has sounded out and it is an international obligation," said LaRocque. "It's an obligation that was entered into by the community by the member states who signed on to the EPA. And the EU has raised it. They have heard of the (fiscal) challenges that are being faced by members. They have not taken any action on it. I think they are making some soundings which we must listen to and be a little more certain in trying to do what we are supposed to do," he added.
He said the secretariat, which has an EPA unit comprised of four highly skilled persons, was "very much involved" in discussions on the reduction in duties and working constantly with member states.
"It is an issue that all the member states derive a substantial amount of revenue from their tariffs. That is why in the EPA there is a provision that talks about restructuring your internal taxes, but they are not in tandem with each other. There is a horizon of some longer period to do that," said the secgen.
Walford, referring to what he said were misguided fears about revenue loss, was also reported as saying that the EU would help governments reform their taxation systems so they would be less reliant on income from customs duties and more on other sources of tax.