‘No need to fear’
THE Government of Jamaica is almost ready to sign the new trade and development deal with the European Union (EU) after missing the recent official signing in Samoa to facilitate what it called “ongoing consultations”.
The new partnership agreement will serve as the legal framework for EU relations with 79 Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries — 16 from the Caribbean, 48 from Africa and 15 Pacific countries.
But only 44 of those 79 countries signed the deal into provisional application during a two-day meeting in the Samoan capital, Apia, last week.
The remaining 35, including Jamaica, have until the end of this year to sign or risk losing access to loans from the European Investment Bank, which relies on the agreement for its legal operating mandate outside the EU.
On Tuesday Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Jonson Smith told the Jamaica Observer that while the Government is now ready to sign, no date has yet been set.
“I can’t give you a date. I have a meeting with my PS (permanent secretary) today (Tuesday) to set the schedule for the consultations to take place as promised,” said Johnson Smith on the margins of a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) media briefing at its Belmont Road, New Kingston headquarters.
A number of the countries which did not sign last week had charged that the 20-year Samoa Agreement — which replaces the Cotonou Agreement that governed the relationship between ACP States and the EU — for the most part contains vague, aspirational language, such as committing both sides to pursue “people-centred and rights-based societies”.
Locally critics of the agreement have pointed to what they describe as the glaring danger of multiple clauses.
They argued that the agreement was set to bind Jamaica to undefined human rights obligations tied to trade sanctions, reintroduce Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) back into schools despite parents’ outrage in 2012 with regard to CSE’s sexualising content; trap the nation in yet-to-be-negotiated international instruments, and demand the acceptance of terms that directly threaten citizens’ freedom of conscience and speech, among other concerns.
But Johnson says the deal will not impose any requirements on Jamaica to introduce measures which are foreign to the island’s culture.
“There is no need to fear. The Jamaica Labour Party Government is a Government that can be trusted to ensure that any agreement that we enter into with a third party state, third party organisation, will never infringe upon our laws,” declared Johnson Smith.
“We are a listening Government, we are a caring Government and we do ensure that this important developmental agreement, it is undertaken within a spirit of understanding,” added Johnson Smith.
She said that at the point of signing Jamaica will also ink an “Interpretative Declaration” to ensure “that the interpretation that we expect is crystal-clear”.
In a release last week Johnson Smith said as a founding member of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), Jamaica was an active participant in the negotiations on the Samoa Agreement, adding that “over the negotiating period of 2017-2020, the Government of Jamaica had incorporated feedback from a diverse range of stakeholders, including members of civil society. She also said that member states had worked across the OACPS regions to address similar issues and concerns”.
She added: “Throughout the negotiations which concluded in 2021, the Government had taken on board the views of the various stakeholders including members of civil society. After what was in fact three years of challenging negotiations, the Government was satisfied that the language of the text in the final Agreement would not supersede Jamaica’s domestic legislation.
“Notwithstanding, the Government has taken note of concerns which continue to be raised by stakeholders in the domestic space, so we will continue consultations with the aim of providing assurances regarding the Government’s unfailing intent to always protect the interest of Jamaica and Jamaicans with the laws of Jamaica as our guide”.
The Samoa Agreement aims to strengthen the capacity of the EU and the ACP countries to address global challenges together.
It lays down common principles and covers six priority areas:
• democracy and human rights
• sustainable economic growth and development
• climate change
• human and social development
• peace and security
• migration and mobility
The agreement includes a common foundation at ACP level combined with three regional protocols for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific with a focus on the regions’ specific needs.