European Partnership Agreement with African, Caribbean and Pacific States
Elaine M. Campbell
Renegotiate EPA: a very optimistic approach
To be clear, EPA is not called Economic Partnership Agreement for nothing. It is a not a Development Aid package but rather a trade agreement, one of many, such as its predecessor the Cotonou Agreement signed in 2000. EPA seeks to realign the business/trade relationships which were granted to ACP countries under a preferential agreement, reached at time of the signing of the entry of the UK to the European Union in 1972. In time, there has been a gradual change of these preferential trade relations between the Caribbean, African and Pacific regions and the EU. This is evident, amongst others, from the downturn in the regions’ sugar and banana industries.
The concerns voiced by the academics is typical of a “reactive approach” taken by peoples of our region. The academics claimed that representatives have made the deal of EPA with their eyes wide shut. The truth is, it is not for the representatives to make deals. They are channels of information. It is for the elected Caribbean leaders to make sensible decisions on our behalf. At this point, leaders are aware, or at least should have been aware, of the consequences of the UK’s membership of the EU. There was time enough, more than 30 years, in which our leaders should have created a strategic plan in which Jamaica, after almost 46 years of independence, would have been able to step up to the challenges of playing ball on an unlevel international field.
I do not wish to call the lobbying efforts by the academics, in order to “renegotiate the trade deal”, a useless attempt. But I do think that this would cause our representatives in Brussels to become beggars without a cause. Our region has no cohesive plan of getting us out of a peripheral position of merely surviving as “Third World countries”. The effort put in by the Caribbean representatives is ineffective at changing the underlying economical intentions of the EU. EPA has been discussed in all the regions of ACP. The African (French and English-speaking) and Pacific regions are nowhere near signing any documents relating to EPA.
It has been hinted that, under EPA, it will be easier for professionals from the Caribbean region entering the European Union. To me, this is saying that our governments ought to be aware of the next great brain drain from the region. What is our contingency plan? Most of our teachers, doctors, and much-needed personnel have already migrated to the UK, US and Canada. The EU needs workers and is seeking a way of finding people to shore up its economy so as to keep its stronghold on the international stage. Therefore, is this really a negotiation victory we get from EPA?
It is my greatest wish to see our people wake up from the colonial slumber and take a “proactive approach” in the building of our country and regions. One concrete plan would be to see the representatives bodies, such as CRNM, become fully staffed. Brussels, like Washington, is the centre of world politics, and it is highly unprofessional to see the few good civil servants being ostracised when they do what they can when attending meetings on our behalf.
In our region we need a proactive civil society which simulates discussions on international issues affecting our daily lives. Also, we should take a more proactive, pre-emptive approach in countering the moves of the EU or any other country for that matter. Let the truth be known, decisions in Brussels are the outcome of long, internal EU debates and discussions involving local and national stakeholders right from the formative stages. To think that we could renegotiate EPA at this stage is very optimistic. We are simply not prepared.
Elaine Campbell is a legal researcher in The Netherlands.