Friday, February 11, 2011

Guyana's solid record of commitment to the realisation of the goals of Caricom integration praised.

Jamaica Observer Editorial: Guyana became the first Caricom country to implement the tariff reductions agreed to in the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). You go, Guyana!

In January, the Guyanese National Assembly passed the Customs Duty (Amendment) Order 2011, which was subsequently published in the Official Gazette Order No 1 of 2011, which amends the Customs Act to include the EPA schedule of tariff rates.

Guyana, therefore, has the lead in taking the necessary legislative steps to implement the commitments embodied in the EPA.

No one will forget the intemperate tirade of accusations against the European Union by President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana for what he saw as their failure to honour their pledges of trade preferences and development aid. The international campaign was an embarrassing failure because it changed nothing as the terms of the EPA were not renegotiated nor was the amount of aid accompanying the EPA increased.

Even the claim of extracting an EU commitment to review the agreement was not an accomplishment since such a provision was already in the text of the EPA. The campaign did, however, cause tension among the heads of government of Caricom, prompting Prime Minister Bruce Golding to dismiss the campaign as mendicancy.

The EPA, after four years of negotiations, was signed in October 2008, suffering a delay partly due to the need for detailed legal review by governments and partly because of Guyana's threat not to sign the EPA, which it eventually did in the privacy of its embassy in Brussels.

Guyana's action represents a triumph of pragmatism and is a continuation of that country's solid record of commitment to the realisation of the goals of Caricom integration. And justly so, because President Jagdeo is a genuine believer in the regional vision and he has been a consistent advocate of regional integration and regional co-operation.

Guyana's very able minister of finance, Mr Ashni Singh, must also get credit for so conducting the country's fiscal affairs that it could take the appropriate action on the EPA.

Guyana's tariff liberalisation schedule in the EPA requires 60 per cent of all imports or tariff lines to be liberalised in January 2011 and tariff to be reduced on the remaining 23 per cent of the imports over five to 25 years. A further 17 per cent of imports (or tariff lines) are excluded from liberalisation.

Guyana's implementation of the tariff schedule is important to bolster the more affluent member states of Caricom to do likewise at a time when there is a prolonged hiatus in the implementation of the EPA. It is also an important public demonstration of commitment to Caricom and regional co-operation at a time when so many others find it convenient to delay or unabashedly avoid regional commitments.

The EPA negotiations were completed in December 2007 and provisional application of the agreement became effective on December 29, 2008, yet it was not until February 2009 that the Caricom Secretariat established an EPA Implementation Unit. Some countries like Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas and Jamaica have set up national EPA implementation units.

However, the Caricom unit has accomplished nothing tangible. Hortatory pronouncements are not a substitute for meaningful actions. There seems to be little prospect of action since the Caricom Secretariat is shedding staff as its budget continues to contract in the face of donor fatigue and non-payment by member states.

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