Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Sandra Husbands, has urged small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to consider exporting to Martinique, Guadeloupe and other regional territories that have access to the European market.
She was speaking at a regional workshop entitled Leveraging the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) at the Radisson Aquatica Resort, on Thursday.
Minister Husbands described these European Union (EU) overseas countries and territories as “good entry points” to the 500 million mainland European citizens, and also suggested that business owners should consider Suriname, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
“If we start to look around at our neighbours, you have access to that European market. That might be the place for us to start to build capacity, and then expand into the wider European market,” she pointed out.
The minister further stated that input from SMEs was critical to helping Barbados and the Caribbean create a strategy to leverage the CARIFORUM-EU EPA.
She praised the Small Business Association of Barbados and the Caribbean Export Development Agency for staging the workshop, which was attended by local and regional owners of micro, small and medium sized enterprises.
Ms. Husbands explained that 10 years ago a waiver granted to the EU by the World Trade Organization to continue preferential treatment to the region under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement came to an end. As a result, the region negotiated a bilateral agreement with the business community in mind.
“The region was able to negotiate the continuation of its duty free-quota free access to the European Union for all goods and services produced in the region. At the same time, the region was able to offer a measure of protection for regional businesses by delaying the liberalization on the region’s end.
“We sought to safeguard the sensitive goods, which are produced in the region, by either excluding the same from liberalization, or by affording longer time periods over which the tariffs would be reduced. This allows those sectors to increase productivity and competitiveness before liberalization,” she outlined.
However, the minister lamented: “Ten years on from the signature of the agreement, we honestly struggle to quantify the tangible benefits of the agreement. No blame should be cast on either side for this situation.”
She challenged the SMEs to test the strength of the EPA, and use it to translate the benefits on paper to actual economic gains.
Minister Husbands also called on business owners to share their experiences on the ground, so that ministry officials could continue to discuss, consult and negotiate for improved access to this market with the EU.