EPA still a useful tool for trade, development — EU ambassador

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicoabserver.com

Monday, June 08, 2015

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HEAD of the European Union delegation in Jamaica, Ambassador Paola Amadei, says the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) which Jamaica and other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States (CARIFORUM) signed with the EU in 2008 still remain a very useful tool for trade and development.

The agreements are aimed at promoting trade between Europe and CARIFORUM, and boosting the economies by replacing the decades-old preferential access to European markets, which the World Trade Organization felt had not helped countries the way it should have. But scepticism about the tangible benefits of the agreements with Caribbean countries have remained over the years.

"The EPA is just a tool, but then it's up to the economic actors to use those tools," Amadei pointed out yesterday at the Jamaica Observer's Monday Exchange.

She added that, while the EPA is still a non-reciprocal arrangement, with the EU extending better conditions to Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, "this is acceptable and justified by the different levels of development."

"But, currently, the almost entire offer of Jamaican products and Caribbean products and services enter the EU duty and quota free. This means that this arrangement is stable over time; while, when you have a concessional arrangement it can be interrupted any time, so this is one advantage," Ambassador Amadei added.

Still, Amadei noted, CARIFORUM will only reap real benefits if member countries are able to successfully penetrate the EU market. This means that products must be competitively priced and of acceptable quality. "If the products are not competitive because of price, because of quality, there is no trade agreement that will make it attractive to the market," she stated.

The head of delegation noted that last year exports to the EU doubled compared to 2008/2009. She said that, while an argument could be made to attribute this to improvement in the economy, the increase could also be tied to the competitive advantage afforded to local products via the EPA.

"One aspect that should be taken into account is the fact that, traditionally, Jamaican producers have been concentrated on the international market, and to North America and the Diaspora market in the UK and other countries," she said.

Amadei emphasised that the EPA presents the opportunity to look outside these traditional markets to 28 other territories. She said it should also be taken into account that, although these markets are diverse, because of the EPA the same trading standards and rules apply across the board. "You can look at options outside of your traditional markets using the same standard you use to export to the UK, but, at the same time, you can find countries that would have more of a preference for a specific produce. So it's a question of looking for more opportunity," she stated.

At the same time, the ambassador said the EPA also provides "generous" support measures for the region, valued at ¤400 million, to assist small and medium-sized enterprises in particular with penetrating these non-traditional markets.

She also highlighted the donation of critical lab equipment to the Bureau of Standards Jamaica in order to strengthen Jamaica's capacity for food testing, which benefits both the export and domestic markets. "This has resulted in the reduction of cost and saving on time for exporters. In the past, if you wanted to export ackees, not just to the EU, but to any market, you needed to send for testing somewhere else, and the cost for this process was on you. Now this is done locally," she said.

In the meantime, Amadei noted that trade between Caribbean countries remain limited. "One reason is the fact that you have very similar type of products, of economies... but if you look at the EU, we are also a group of countries with similar economic and industrial ways. Nevertheless, the bulk of our trade for raw material, is within the European Union," she reasoned, urging the countries of the region to use the tools and improved capacities provided by their EPAs to foster increased inter-regional trade.

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