By Nekaelia Hutchinson
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- The reduction of technical barriers to trade which currently exist between CARIFORUM countries and the European Union (EU) is the focus of a BBD$18.5 million EU-funded programme, coordinated by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ).
Component 4: Technical Barriers to Trade of the 10th European Development Fund - Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) Programme, which is also supported by Physikalisch-Technische Bundestantalt (PTB, Germany) and the Dirección General de Normas y Sistemas de Calidad (DIGENOR, Dominican Republic), was officially launched on Wednesday morning in Barbados.
Ambassador of Barbados to CARICOM, Robert Morris, acknowledged that the facilitation of trade was key to regional development, and as such, the programme was critical for CARIFORUM countries.
"Caribbean policymakers are all aware that the major factor in the pursuit of sustainable development for our countries is our capacity to engage in trade, contributing to earning foreign exchange and building stable foreign reserves in our individual countries," he said. The CARICOM ambassador also observed, "The project represents the benefits which can be derived from the EPA and underscores the importance of the need for access to funding for technical assistance in our region, as we struggle to transition our small, vulnerable, open and disadvantaged economies."
The development of regional capacity and quality would be one of the great gains of the project, Morris added, which would "result in the access of our products from the blue and the green economies in the markets where we can earn foreign exchange, which is so vital to us, as well as to future generations of our citizens".
Component 4 is just one of the elements of the 46.5 million euro EPA Implementation intervention, under the 10th European Development Fund Programme of Support to CARIFORUM states. This step is being taken to encourage participating countries to take advantage of the opportunities available under the EPA, which, according to head of the delegation of the EU to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Ambassador Valeriano Diaz, has not been used to its full potential.
"Despite the considerable support being provided by the EU towards EPA implementation in the Caribbean, there seems to be some unease with the pace of progress and the realisation of potential benefits in this regard. This has led some people to question whether the region should have signed off on the EPA," he said.
The EU delegation head assured, however, that being signatory to the EPA did not mean the region "will be swamped by European firms and goods...
"The EPA encourages the Caribbean to implement regional commitments in trade in goods and as such it supports OECS integration, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, as well as the CARICOM-Dominican Republic Free Trade Area," he stressed.
Countering the argument that a cut in regional tariffs would result in a decrease in revenues, Diaz remarked, "...the initial tariff cuts on goods imported from the EU [were due to be implemented] since January 2011, over 18 months ago. We are aware that countries are dealing with capacity constraints...however, the importance of the Caribbean meeting [its] obligation in this regard cannot be over-emphasised...
"The reality is that the time period for reducing tariffs extend over 25 years! This initial cut is therefore very miniscule and will have very little impact, if any, on government's revenues as the products committed for early tariff removal were those with already low tariffs."
He emphasised the point that the EU was committed to working with CARIFORUM nations to make their tax systems less dependent on customs duties and improving the efficiency of revenue collection.
Diaz cautioned, "The credibility and predictability of our joint commitments in the EPA is at stake. The WTO is watching; the other developed countries that have repeatedly challenged our trading relationships are watching; and developing countries who wish to get the kind of access that is available in the EPA for themselves are watching as well. We have a lot at stake."