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Caribbean private sector complains about EU trade barriers under EPA

CAIC President, Ramesh Dookhoo (centre). flanked by Vice Presidents Anilkumar Paradath; Dav-Ernan Kowlessar and Dr. Rollin Bertrand

Prospective exporters trying to take advantage of European Union (EU) markets through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Caribbean are facing prolonged bureaucratic stumbling blocks, officials of the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) said Wednesday.

CAIC officials said they made their concerns known to Ambassador Irwin La Rocque- the Secretary General of the 15-nation Caribbean Forum (Cariforum) which is made up of Caricom’s 14 independent nations and the Dominican Republic.

CAIC Vice President, Rollin Bertrand complained that among the major non-tariff barriers is the EU’s standards regime that could see applications take as much as three years to process. Bertrand said the umbrella business organisation was not opposed to standards but was concerned that Caribbean companies which have passed local, regional and international standards were not benefitting from reciprocal treatment in processing their applications in a reasonable time-frame.

The business body, which is working to play a major role in Caricom’s decision-making system, noted that assurances of fast processing were merely words.

“If you go through the EPA Agreement you will see the language that suggests very strongly that the European Union countries would not put any undue hurdles in the way of trade coming from Caricom. That’s what exists on paper. The reality is not that,” Bertrand told a news conference at the headquarters of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) a few hours after meeting with La Rocque.

Through the EPA, independent Caribbean countries can trade in goods and services with Europe’s overseas territories in the region such as French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Saint Martin and the Dutch Antilles.

CAIC President, Guyanese Ramesh Dookhoo noted that the “harsh reality” was that countries could use non-tariff barriers that are not written in agreements.  Dookhoo said his organisation would shortly document its concerns and dispatch them to the Cariforum Secretary General.

Representing 21 countries across the region, CAIC is expected to participate in a special session of Caricom’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) to be held next month in Guyana. CAIC hopes to remove a “significant shortcoming” of the private sector not being involved in decision-making and policy formulation.