Think twice about EPA, says Marshall
The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which Barbados and other Caribbean countries have initialled with Europe, has the potential to undermine CARICOM.
Dr Don Marshall, senior research fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, warned Monday night that the EPA can seriously restrict the power of regional leaders to frame policy and to intervene to put their economies in order.
Marshall was at the time leading a discussion at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus after making a presentation on the current state of play of the Caribbean Forum/European Union EPA.
He suggested that Caribbean countries should sign only the trade in goods aspects of the full EPA and give themselves time to negotiate better deals on services, investment, government procurement, competition and intellectual property.
Marshall said unless this happened, "not only will our domestic national policy space and autonomy be circumscribed, even our attempts to deepen the Single Market and Economy will also be circumscribed".
This was because a lot of the EPA "goes way beyond and has consolidated taxing issues that still occupy the agenda of COTED [the Council for Trade and Economic Development] and the agenda of different CARICOM councils", according to Marshall.
He said that initialling the EPA with a number of problem areas "undermines" the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
". . . . I think the person with the most unenviable task now happens to be the current Prime Minister of Barbados because Barbados has the responsibility for pushing the CSME," he told a gathering which included students.
"But how could Barbados be leading a CSME at a time when its policy space is virtually shut?"
Marshall argued that Caribbean countries would be "under surveillance" in a joint CARIFORUM/EU Council being set up to oversee the EPA.
This council "will even have more power than our CARICOM Secretariat to enforce the rules of that EPA agreement," he said.
He also said that the governance arrangements that will be in place by next year for the EPA "will supersede any of the arrangements that we have under CARICOM".
Regional governments are now undertaking a legal review of the text of the agreement with June 30, 2008 having been proposed as the date for full signing and provisional application of the agreement.
However, Marshall cautioned Caribbean countries not to rush to sign the agreement. They should sign "only the aspect of the EPA that is tolerable", he said, referring to the trade in goods.
According to Marshall: "There are a number of things that we signed onto beyond the trade in goods arrangements that we really need to pause, reflect and come up with a different strategy."
A simple matter like access into Europe to deliver services represents "a quagmire", he said. (TY)