CARIFORUM European Union Economic Partnership Agreement4487 10 May, 2012
Dr. Ramsammy: I stand to add my support to this motion to ratify the CARIFORUM/EU Economic Partnership Agreement. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs said we signed this in October, 2008. We also, in this National Assembly, approved the schedule of tariff liberalisation that the Minister spoke about which has excluded 17% of the commodities out of Europe into our country from this trade liberalisation.
Earlier I heard the Hon. Member Deborah Backer talking about the presentation in the House today of the text of the agreement. In fact, these texts were available to everyone not only in the Parliament but around the world. It is on the Guyana Government website, it is on the CARICOM website, it is on the EU website; it is everywhere. So this is not a secret document. Every student of the Economic Partnership Agreement has been perusing it and talking about it. In fact, I agree with the Member that there are positive things about this agreement and we can take advantage of those.
The Hon. Member Khemraj Ramjattan should know that whilst there are many positive things in this agreement there are serious dangers. We must never talk about partnership with the EU and us as if it is a partnership or agreement between equals. It is not. In fact, we have to sign. It was not as if everybody was comfortable with the agreement. No country in the Caribbean was comfortable with the agreement. It was either we agree with the EPA or we would have been forced to go to the general listed system of preference (GSP) which would have been more disadvantageous. So there were reservations and his Excellency the then President Bharrat Jagdeo was bold enough to talk about the unequalness. He knew and stated in his address during the consultancy that we would have to sign because even with what existed then in EPA it would have been better than falling back to GSP. There were other prominent people in our country who agreed with the President. Mr. Winston Murray stood up there and said he had some problems, but he too was bold enough to talk about the reservations on this. Professor Clive Thomas, Professor Givon and Sir Shridath Ramphal wrote extensively about reservations on this.
So the reservation that His Excellency talked about was not flip flopping, he recognised that we had and we all recognised, but we knew that we had to sign. We were trying to see… [Mrs. Backer: …grandstanding…] No, it was not grandstanding. It was that we had to see if there was something better. Listen, the fact of the matter is that next year we are going to have the first review of the CARIFORUM/EU/Economic Partnership Agreement. Had we not expressed our reservation and be as vociferous as we were, we would not have had that clause inserted in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
In fact with the EPA there is still concern around the region on how it could impact on the single market and integration in the Caribbean. That is still a concern of every Prime Minister, President, all Foreign Affairs Ministers and all the academics of the Caribbean. There is still that reservation and the fact that we were able to insert a clause into the agreement and the Treaty of Chaguaramus not being superseded by this agreement is testimony to the leadership that we provide.
This is an agreement that we must take advantage of the opportunities that exist. Yes, it is not a panacea, a one-sided thing of only good things to us, there are dangers. We as countries that are entering into an agreement with a partner that is not our equal, by far is not our equal, we must be cognisant of these dangers.
The non-liberalised products that we have been able to get into the agreement and I believe the Caribbean people, including the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, did a good job in ensuring that we excluded some of the product. The Minister of Foreign Affairs talked about the products such as sugar, some of the fruits and vegetables that we are excluding from liberalisation.
There are the technical barriers to trade that are still preserved in the EPA. There are technical barriers, regulations and standards which we will have to struggle meeting. And yes, Guyana has an advantage over some other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries because we have exported wood, sugar, rice, rum and bananas from other Caribbean countries, so we have some experience in meeting these standards. But still there are mighty mountains; overwhelming challenges to meet these technical barriers of trade and it will take a lot of capacity and investment to develop the capacity to overcome these technical barriers to trade. This is something we have to work on.
There are other barriers, the Special Preferential Sugar (SPS) barrier and the sanitary and phytosanitary barriers that we have to overcome. These are some of the things that we have to work on. Many of our countries have not yet been able to implement those SPSs and it prevents us from exporting. Guyana is working on these and, for example, I hope to, very shortly, bring to this National Assembly, a Food Safety Bill that will set in motion some stronger initiatives and to meet these SPSs. Not only to export to Europe, but also for providing high quality and safe food for our own people and within the regional markets, but in that respect it takes a lot of investments and training.
Guyana has been working with Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), World Health Organisation (WHO), with CARIFORUM that has now been established and based in Trinidad, with the Caribbean Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency (CAFSA) based in Paramaribo, Suriname to build these sanitary and phytosanitary standards. Our pesticide lab that has been established will allow us by being able to measure for pesticide residues and so forth to meet many of these standards. It is a struggle, it calls for lots of investments and it will take time.
So, whilst the opportunity for our products to enter the liberalised market in Europe exists, being able to take advantage will take time and will also take investment and these are some of the things that cause the reservations in the first place. It was not just wild grandstanding, you might call that grandstanding, but these are some of the struggles that we have to go through, and I know the Hon. Member Mr.Greenidge will stand up and say yes it was grandstanding and these things and so on. But I can tell you though, as Minister of Health then and now Minister of Agriculture that we have been struggling with these SPSs barriers, not just us, but in Africa $70 billion a year of earnings are excluded because of the SPSs barriers that exist. When one looks at it by more than 5000 times the limit of Aflatoxins in peanuts have been established as part of this SPS, so that even if we do all the things necessary, we will never enter that market. And you take a few billion dollars being given as aid and then you exclude at the worth of $70 billion, it is not always what you see on paper, and these are the reservations that we are talking about.
So it is not flip flop and you know we can accuse one President or other people, but as a citizen of this country and given the fact that I read everything I can get my hand on and study everything, even before all of that, from Cotonou days in 2000, reading these things and because of speaking at the poverty level at WHO and so on, these are the struggles that countries have to reduce poverty. We know that we have had some preferences historically from the Europeans, sugar and things like that and the prices and so on and the tariff free, quota free access to that market by poor countries and so on do pose challenges for us. The fact of the matter is that sugar and the exports of sugar to Europe still represent a considerable foreign exchange earner. It is a source of employment and it is a provider of rural livelihood. Sugar is important to us, then, today and it will be so twenty years from now.
The sugar protocol with its allocated quota and preferential price has been a critical element in our development story. But I do not know, some people call it the preference, I never called it a preference and I do not want to go into that. But this was a treaty signed, I think Mr. Greenidge and others know, in 1975 and it was supposed to be unending. This unfortunately was a preferential arrangement that neither party could have abrogated, but one of the reservations in fact of signing the EPA, is that in signing the EPA, it is also a denunciation of the arrangement, a denunciation of that treaty and the sugar arrangement by the Economic Partnership Agreement.
So it is not flip flop, it is genuine reservation, however we express it and every citizen in this country have that reservation… [Interruption] Yes all of us should have had.
In the new arrangement the agreement saw the reforms of the European sugar production and marketing arrangement, for example, as one of the reforms in this European sugar arrangement is that there is a 36% reduction in the sugar price. Do you know what that costs us? It was approximately US$42 million on an annual basis. That is a reservation we should all have, it is not flip flopping, it is a reservation and the way it was we may have to go along, it is something that we have to put on the table as a genuine reservation and concern and that is what we had to do.
I do not want to make this a long story, but the truth is that the private sector for example and the National Competitiveness Council - we developed a National Competitive Strategy and a council and a lot of things have happened over the years. We have had 27 policy areas, 243 actions to be implemented, I am not going to go through all of this, but there are areas of trade transactions, competition and consumer protection, tax policy and administration, investment and export promotion, access to finance, business development services and institutional reforms. We have made progress in all of that, I can take each one of these and begin to talk about all of the areas that we have made progress in.
As a country we cannot escape the Economic Partnership Agreement, it is there and in a relationship, an equal partnership arrangement, we have to view the economic partnership agreement from the perspective of the opportunities that exist and to explore those opportunities and do the best. But we also have to be cognisant of the dangers that lurk and we have to begin to avoid those… [Interruption] [Mr. Ramjattan: This is flip flop...] You can call it flip flop, but we must go and tell the people that US$42 million a year loss is a flip flop and not a concern. You must go and tell them that.
We, at least on this side of the House, will speak for our producers, our manufacturers, etc, that there are technical barriers and the SPS which represents in the immediate future, constraints for us to enter a market that says you are free, but you cannot come in unless you do this and so on. We are part of this agreement and we ask that this House ratify the agreement, as signed by the Government of Guyana as part of CARIFORUM.
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