The CF EC EPA, where we stand after two years


(Joyce van Genderen-Naar)
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This brief update has been written to discuss the current state of affairs regarding the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the CARIFORUM (CF)States and the EU, referred to as CF EC EPA. It aims to address the following questions: What has been done thus far and how can both EU and CF representatives demonstrate a stronger commitment to providing public access to information concerning EPA-related developments?

As will be shown, these questions emanate from a recognition of the fact that stakeholders in the Caribbean and the EU, among others, have to be informed about the decisions of the Joint CF EC EPA Institutions. Not providing this information creates a degree of uncertainty that poses an obstacle to not only the functioning of economic actors within the Caribbean region and the EU alike, but to regional economic development writ large.
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The CF EC EPA, concluded in December 2007 and signed in October 2008, has been provisionally applied since 29 December 2008. The Agreement is yet to have entered into official force and effect because neither all EU nor all CARIFORUM member states have completed the procedures of ratification and notification as required by article 243 of CF EC EPA. Assuming some states have completed this process, it is not known, or at least it has not been made public, how many CARIFORUM and EU Member States have in fact done this.
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The above is not to suggest that there has been no progress since the signing of the CF EC EPA two years ago. Indeed, there has been some movement. Notable undertakings include the following: 1) The adoption of rules and procedures that will operationalize the Joint CF EC EPA institutions, and; 2) Some CARIFORUM States have established EPA Implementations Units (Note: The European Commission in Brussels has no EPA Implementation Unit, however, there is a Unit in DG Trade that is responsible for the Caribbean. See website: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/issues/bilateral/regions/acp/index_en.htm).
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Only the first of these two measures will be further discussed below.
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Progress on the Joint CF-EC EPA Institutions
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The establishment and powers of the joint CF EC EPA institutions are articulated in articles 227-232 of the CF EC Economic Partnership Agreement. Of them, the key institutions are: the Joint CARIFORUM-EC Council; the CARIFORUM-EC Trade and Development Committee; the Joint Parliamentary Committee; and the CF EC Consultative Committee. They will operate jointly and at the same time represent the respective interests of CARIFORUM and EU stakeholders.
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The Joint CARIFORUM-EC EPA Council had its inaugural meeting on 17 May 2010 in Madrid. It was at this meeting that representatives of the EU and the CARIFORUM States adopted the Rules and Procedures for the Joint Council, the CARIFORUM-EC Trade and Development Committee, the Special Committee on Customs Cooperation and Trade Facilitation and other Special Committees. Also adopted were the rules of procedure for dispute settlement, and a code of conduct for EPA arbitrators and mediators. Among these rules, it was also decided that the official and working languages of CF-EC EPA institutions would be English, Spanish, French and Dutch. All of these decisions are published in the Official Journal of the European Union L 247/66 on 21 September 2010.
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Even with the above information, it is still hard to say who the CARIFORUM and EU representatives are that will serve in the joint institutions. This is because not all nominations have been completed, and not all of the participants in the meetings are known. What we do know, however, is that the CF EC Joint Council and CF EC Trade and Development Committee will be composed of representatives of CARIFORUM, EU Council and European Commission (DG Trade and DG Development).
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The EPA Experience: Accounting for the Public Information Deficit
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A reading of the above discussion on the progress of the EPA makes it clear that a problem exists regarding access to information (or the lack thereof) regarding the ongoings of the EPA. What accounts for why information is so scare and difficult to access? The most important reasons for this most likely include; 1) the complexity of the CF EC EPA and its institutions; 2) the many Parties involved (15 CARIFORUM States, 27 EU Member States and the European Commission); 3) the fact that EPA-related meetings are not public unless, pursuant to the rules and procedures, it is expressly stated that a meeting will be made so, and; 4) These same rules and procedures explicitly note that EU and CARIFORUM member states can use their own discretion on whether to officially publish the decisions and recommendations made in these meetings.
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Unlike the most of the other CF-EC EPA institutions, it is expected that the meetings of the joint CF EC EPA Parliamentary Committee and CF EC EPA Consultative Committee will be more open and public. Be that as it may, up to now there has not been much publicity about the set up of these committees.
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Surprisingly, as difficult as it has been for members of the general public to access information on the official progression of the EPA, more problematic still is the impression that communication between the EU and CF also seems to be a problem: A frequently asked question in Brussels is, “What is happening in the Caribbean and who could give us some information about the progress on the Caribbean side?”
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So what are EU and CARIFORUM officials saying explains the general lack of public information? An insider in Brussels maintains that it has nothing to do with mystery and secrecy, but with the fact that the CF EC EPA has not been implemented yet in the CARIFORUM states. Not everyone agrees with that explanation, however. During a recent interview with Branford Isaacs, Head of CARICOM’s EPA Implementation Unit and Specialist in Trade in Goods, and Ms Allyson Francis, the Unit’s Trade in Services and Investment Specialist, Mr. Isaacs responded directly to this answer offered above concerning the lack of public information. He stated the following: “We are aware that some of the feedback we sometimes hear from Brussels is that CARIFORUM states are not really focused on implementation. We can’t speak for Brussels, but we do not recognise that at all”. (Trade Negotiations Insights, Volume 9, Number 10, December 2010 http://ictsd.org/i/news/tni/97942/)
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Further, in another interview in Trade Negotiations Insights Volume 9, Number 8, October 2010, http://ictsd.org/i/news/tni/87787/, H.E. Errol Humphrey, Head of the EPA Implementation Unit in Barbados, gave an indication that the lack of access to information concerning the EPA is inextricably linked to the larger issues concerning the lack of progress on the implementation of the Agreement. In the interview, he explained that,
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“The implementation challenges are twofold: First, making the necessary funding and other resources available, notably in a context marked by the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis, and secondly, educating the stakeholders on the provisions of the Agreement. With regard to resources and funding, the crisis has rendered the mobilisation of resources difficult. Secondly, because stakeholders are less knowledgeable about the EPA than was expected, more time than anticipated has to be spent informing both the public and private sectors about the obligations and opportunities associated with the Agreement.

The Barbados Private Sector Trade Team has been doing its part with its limited resources, but the private sector is of the view that the responsibility for educating the public should be on the government. In this regard, in order to inform stakeholders, we have decided to produce a series of small booklets on trade in goods, investment, entertainment and cultural services, professional services, tourism, etc. to make it easier for relevant stakeholders to have an idea of what is in the agreement without having to read the entire text. We are also trying to be proactive in terms of sensitisation sessions with agencies, industry associations etc. and we should be making better use of the media.“
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Generally speaking, both interviews contain very useful and insightful information about the EPA implementation process and its constraints in the CARIFORUM States.
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Offering A Solution and Looking Ahead to 2011
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Given all of the above, we are left with the question, how can access to information on the CF CE EPA be improved? Although there are several approaches that can and should be taken to address this issue, for the purposes of enhancing CF-EC EPA-related access to information, communication and dialogue, an essential avenue that should be explored is the establishment of a CF EC EPA website. On such a site all EPA documents, briefs and updates could be provided, while also offering a space where individuals could post both questions and comments.
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Finally, what can be looked forward to in 2011? Among other things to look out for, there will be a meeting of the CARIFORUM-EC Trade and Development Committee in March 2011, as well as meetings of the EU side of the CF EC EPA Consultative Committee in Brussels and the region. In the Caribbean, we can also expect that CARIFORUM officials will continue to organize and orient themselves with respect to the Agreement. With all of this though, it is still unclear as to whether we can expect either, a change in the speed with which the EPA is being implemented, or an increase in the accessibility of official information concerning the CF-EC EPA process. Of course, only time will tell. However, time has never spoken louder than the voices of concerned citizens.
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Joyce van Genderen-Naar
Brussels based lawyer
Legal Advisor ACP Civil Society Forum http://www.acpcsforum.igloocommunities.com/

Advisor MDG Global Watch
Email: vangenderen@unicall.be

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