Ratify the trade agreement, British high commissioner pleads
British High Commissioner to Jamaica Judith Slater is urging the political directorate to ratify the Cariforum-United Kingdom Economic Partnership Agreement (UK EPA) and entrench it in law as companies seek to deepen trade and investment ties between both countries.
The Cariforum-UK EPA is a trade agreement signed between the UK and 14 Cariforum countries that came into effect on January 1, 2021 when the UK reclaimed autonomy of its trade and foreign policy and exited the European Union’s (EU) political and economic bloc. As such, the agreement will be used in place of the Cariforum-EU EPA, which guided trade relations between the UK and Cariforum member states before the former’s “Brexit” in 2020.
Slater, who was speaking on Thursday during the UK-Jamaica Trade Export Business Forum held at the Jamaica Promotions Corporation’s (Jampro) head office in New Kingston, said the aim of the Cariforum-UK EPA is to “permanently remove trade barriers between the UK and the Caribbean”.
While underscoring that her country’s Government is “passionate [about] facilitating business between both countries”, she added, “The UK is committed to the full and effective implementation of the EPA.”
However, the UK high commissioner noted that there are some hiccups with the implementation of the agreement as, while the UK has waived all tariffs for exports from the Caribbean, some countries in the region have yet to reduce tariffs in line with their commitments to the agreement. Jamaica, she said, is not among those.
“But we also do want Jamaica and other Cariforum states to ratify the EPA and bring it into domestic legislation. This will provide predictability and transparency, which traders and investors need to take decisions over the medium and long term,” Slater declared, pledging the UK is ready to assist countries in the region navigate the technical process.
However, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Senator Aubyn Hill, during his address, disclosed that he “wasn’t quite sure where the ratification” process had reached and as such requested that newly appointed president of Jampro Shullette Cox send the agreement to the chief technical director in his portfolio ministry.
“We must get it done. We must do what we must do because it’s something that’s in our interest,” he continued.
Responding to a query from the Jamaica Observer about the benefits of ratifying the Cariforum-UK EPA, Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association Director Stephen Dawkins — also export manager at Wisynco Group — noted that while the “the agreement is being provisionally applied”, and trade between both countries continue, Jamaican companies will not be able to access the full benefits of the agreement.
“The core of the issue is that JMEA [Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association] supports trade and the EPA will not enter into force until all Cariforum countries have ratified. Until then, many of the provisions cannot be effected and the benefits not realised. However, that’s limited to trade in goods and a few other areas… [So] there needs to be greater understanding of the constraints to ratification so together both Jamaica and the UK can address them.”
Jamaica, Suriname, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago have not ratified the Cariforum-UK EPA, he said.
According to Slater, the British High Commission in Jamaica has provided development assistance in supporting export diversification through the Compete Caribbean initiative. Across the region, the UK Trade Partnership programme helps select companies “on what we call the last mile of the export process. So we are connecting them with buyers”.
Moreover, she revealed that the UK’s diplomatic missions in the region are finalising a project with the Caricom Secretariat in Guyana to provide support to member states in implementing the agreement in their respective jurisdictions.
Over the next few months Jamaica will host a number of meetings geared towards improving relations with the UK. In May, Jamaica will head the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum. There will also be the UK-Jamaica Strategic Dialogue and a UK EPA Joint Council, which was last hosted virtually in 2021.
“We also have an exciting and growing export financing office… They provide credit guarantees and other financing [solutions] for businesses in Jamaica on generous terms,” Slater stated.
Up to the end of September 2022, total trading in goods between Jamaica and the UK amounted to under £400 million. While this “represents a partial recovery after COVID-19, this is not yet a return to pre-pandemic levels”, the high commissioner said.
In this regard, she pointed out that while Jamaica continues to carve out a niche in specialty foods, such as high-end coffee, and business process outsourcing, and while tourism has grown steadily, traditional export commodities from Jamaica have declined over the better part of the last decade.
“And Jamaican SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] have struggled to break through internationally… and this is where the Economic Partnership Agreement can help,” Slater outlined, adding that exporters can benefit from duty-free access to the UK market, giving them a competitive edge over businesses from other regions.
Senator Hill, commenting on Jamaica’s exports to the UK up to end of September 2022, said he was happy with the 55.1 per cent increase over the full year in 2021, but expects the number to increase “exponentially”, given the market intelligence and the technical assistance provided through the EPA. He added that business should “delve into the details” to take advantage of UK’s retail sales market valued at £496 billion.