Former Barbados prime minister, Owen Arthur, says Caribbean Community regional countries have failed to take full advantage of the 10-year-old Economic partnership Agreement (EPA) signed between the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) and the European Union.
Arthur, who is Professor of Practice at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), told a public lecture, sponsored by the Shridath Ramphal Centre (SRC), earlier this week, that information obtained from the United Kingdom revenue and customs report showed that British imports from CARIFORUM countries had declined from £662 million (One British Pound=US$1.31 cents) in 2008 to £449 million in 2017.
“Only the middle income public seemed to have taken advantage of the generous market access offered by the EPA,” said Arthur, who spoke on the topic “BREXIT and the new Caribbean Trade Agenda”.
Arthur said that despite the “generous market access” for CARIFORUM, which comprises the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries and the Dominican Republic, under the EPA, “the region has not been able to significantly diversify its exports to the European market in any substantial way”.
Last week, nine CARICOM countries signed a trade continuity agreement with the United Kingdom that will allow them to trade as they do now without any additional barriers or tariffs.
Trade Policy Minister, George Hollingbery, signed the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with ministers and representatives from Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The agreement will allow these businesses and many others across the Caribbean to trade like they do now, without any additional barriers or tariffs,” the UK government said in a statement.
“It eliminates all tariffs on all goods imported from the signing CARIFORUM states into the UK, while those Caribbean states will continue gradually to cut import tariffs on most of the region’s imports from the UK,” it said, adding it is “an important export market for the Caribbean.
In his lecture, Arthur, a respected economist, said that Caribbean countries should not expect a major trade deal with the UK when it leaves the European Union (EU).
“I do not think, based on history, that the region can expect any major benefits from England, the UK, when it exits the EU,” Arthur said, adding that with the opportunity to negotiate new independent trade deals, Britain would gravitate to more powerful nations and the region would be excluded.
“The Caribbean can hardly occupy any special place on the UK’s agenda once it leaves the European Union,” he said, urging CARICOM countries to ensure that any future trade deal brokered with the United Kingdom should be one of “a developmental corporation regime”.
Pointing to uncertainties surrounding Brexit and pointing to past experiences under trade deals with the EU, Arthur said there was an urgent need for the region to “recalibrate its trade agenda to remove all of the constraints that is standing in the way of its enterprises penetrating and holding market access and sustained activity on a competitive basis.
“In short, the region needs to build a genuine export culture to be able to function successfully in a globalized economy where trade liberalization has become the dominant practice,” Arthur told the audience.
He said the region’s tourism industry has also been unable to receive any “bounty” as a result of the EPA.
There is no reason to believe that there has been any radical improvement in the penetration of Caribbean service providers to the European Union or the European market.
“In order for the region to have taken advantage of the provisions in the EPA for the movement of natural persons, the market access of the EPA would have to be supplemented by a mutual recognition agreement and visa application agreements between nations from the two groups of nations.
“These matters seemed not to have received the requisite attention since 2008,” Arthur said, urging Caribbean countries to increase their capacity to export and place greater focus on the services industries.