THOMPSON: EPA OFFERS BENEFITS FOR REGION

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Prime Minister David Thompson

This country’s Prime Minister firmly believes that there are benefits to be reaped from the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe.

Just prior to the opening of the Annual General Assembly of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) which took place yesterday in Havana, Cuba, Prime Minister David Thompson ventured to clarify the Barbados position on the EPA with Europe and to reiterate the solid support of this country for the Caribbean integration movement.

In an interview with the CBU earlier in the day, Mr. Thompson stated that, with respect to the EPA, Barbados had been asked by CARICOM to facilitate the signing of the Agreement and had readily expressed its willingness to do so.  He, however, acknowledged that there had been some significant changes in the region since negotiation of the instrument, not least being changes of administrations.

While he noted that such agreements were negotiated with the best technical expertise in the region, he was quick to point out that translation into real benefits, within the context of political realities, was sometimes more challenging. It was the Prime Minister’s contention that although there were many similarities which bound CARICOM Member States together, there were also differences which had to be taken into consideration.

Citing his own country Barbados, as an example, the Prime Minister pointed out, that as a service-based economy it would be looking to identify and benefit from different elements from those countries which supported commodities-based economies.

He further acknowledged that Barbados stood to benefit from the prior experience of its Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Christopher Sinckler, in assessing the value of the Agreement. Mr. Thompson noted that Minister Sinckler had been sharing that understanding and analysis regionally, by publicly explaining the EPA provisions and implications with the region.

According to him, although the previously announced September 2, 2008, signing date was now definitely off, there had been a firm commitment from regional Heads of Government to hold consultations on the issues and concerns surrounding the EPA.

The Prime Minister stressed that, while the EPA was not perfect and that it was never the opinion of his government that it was so, he firmly believed that it was an agreement with which Barbados and the rest of the region could work to positive effect.

The Barbados leader said he considered the provisions to be perhaps the best agreement that the experienced Caribbean negotiators could have arrived at over the three year process. He pointed out that re-negotiation, for which some persons around the region had been calling, was not an option.

Prime Minister Thompson contended that since we were into a new phase of World Trade Organisation negotiations, not signing the EPA could have other implications for the region.

He said: “During the up-coming consultations of regional leaders, therefore, it is hoped that it would offer an opportunity for discussion of the EPA in the context of political realities and the way forward for consensus.

“To begin, the region has to be clear on what it expects to get out of the EPA. If you are not clear on what you want to achieve,” the Prime Minister advised, “you will experience many more challenges along the way.”

Mr. Thompson leaves later today for other international engagements in Barbados’ interest.

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