Prime Minister The Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur

The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) countries and the European Union (EU) must not result in underdevelopment, social and economic exclusion or regional fragmentation.

Prime Minister Owen Arthur made this declaration last Monday as he delivered the feature address at the formal opening ceremony of the 12th session of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly at the Sherbourne Conference Centre.

He observed that with respect to CARIFORUM-EC negotiations, both sides concurred that one of the key objectives of an EPA was to strengthen the regional integration process. He added, however, that there were significant differences as to how and at what speed this should be done.

Mr. Arthur said that he expected the European Union to respect political sovereignty of ACP member states to determine the composition of their regional grouping, the breadth of their integration process and the pace at which member states could proceed in deepening their regional integration.

“We must ensure that ACP regions are not pressured to undertake commitments that could undermine the same development objectives which the EPAs are meant to achieve,” he stressed.

The Prime Minister pointed out that in 1996, when the European Commission first proposed the negotiation of EPAs with ACP regional groupings, both sides emphasised that the new arrangements should provide an impetus to the sustainable development of ACP countries. 

"Therefore, it should not be a surprise to you when I say that, for us in CARIFORUM and for the other ACP regions, an EPA which focuses on the opening of markets, rather than development enhancing initiatives, would be totally unacceptable,” he added.

Mr. Arthur also observed that although both sides shared a common objective of the EPA being a tool for development, there was a “significant divergence” of views on how to bring about development in the ACP countries. He described the European Commission’s approach to development as “much too limited”, and argued that in his view, development should “infuse all facets of an EPA”.

According to him, it should include flexibility in applying trade rules, more effective access to EU markets for ACP goods and services, the provision of special and differential treatment commensurate with a country’s level of development and intrinsic vulnerability, well-designed and executed trade capacity building measures, and binding commitments on EU development support aimed at “responding expeditiously and fully to legitimate ACP needs”.

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