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Cariforum changes course on UK trade

Published:Tuesday | November 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Cariforum officials are expected to wrap up a two-day meeting today, Friday, on a new trade deal with the United Kingdom, one that contemplates a 'no-deal' Brexit and is based on the region's current Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

The UK wants the technical work under way on the new deal, speeded up to meet a March 29, 2019 deadline for implementation, the same date on which UK is expected to give up its membership in the European Union.

A paper titled BREXIT, drafted by the Caricom Secretariat and released this week, described the new Cariforum/UK Economic Partnership Agreement as a technical transposition of the Cariforum/European Union EPA.

The St Lucia meeting is supposed to be assessing the technical details of the agreement, and the ministers are also expected to approve the new trade pact by today.

Cariforum countries exports around US$718 million worth of goods annually to the UK, according to the most recent data seen by the Financial Gleaner, that was extrapolated from EU trade information.

Signing on to a separate deal with the UK would be a reversal of the position on Brexit previously adopted by Cariforum ministers at a March 2018 meeting in St Kitts. Then, the Council of Ministers spoke only of taking steps to ensure there would be no disruption of trade with the UK post-Brexit. Cariforum comprises the 15 members states of Caricom and the Dominican Republic.

The Cariforum bloc was acting on earlier information that the deal being made between the EU and Britain would include a transition period up to December 31, 2020, during which the UK would continue to be treated as an EU member state and during which the Cariforum/European Union EPA would continue to apply to trade relations between Cariforum states and the UK.

Subsequently, however, in July of this year, the BREXIT paper states, the UK minister of state for trade policy wrote to the chair of Cariforum, saying Britain wants to prepare for the possibility of a 'no-deal' Brexit, and urged the technical teams for Cariforum and the UK to ensure that the Cariforum/UK EPA would be ready for implementation next March.

In order to meet that deadline, the agreement must be laid in the UK Parliament by mid-December for ratification.

Cariforum states were advised on October 4 of a schedule of work to be completed so that Cariforum ministers could sign off on the agreement this week, during the November 22-23 meeting in St Lucia, in order to meet the UK's deadline.

As for the UK's ongoing negotiations with the EU for a Brexit deal, it was reported Thursday that documentation on the preliminary pact, which is yet to be approved, indicates that the UK will exit the EU in March as planned, but will remain a member of the EU single market up to the end of 2020, with the option of extending that period by up to two years.