The Bahamas Government intends to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in mid-October along with 11 other CARICOM countries, Minister of State for Finance the Hon. Zhivargo Laing announced at a press conference Monday.
Mr. Laing relayed the outcome of a Special Heads of Government meeting held in Bridgetown, Barbados on September 10, which was called to discuss concerns expressed by some countries regarding the final signing of the EPA with Europe, and to finalise a date for that signing.
Mr. Laing advised that 12 of the 14 CARICOM countries at the meeting announced their intention to sign onto the EPA and set a date to do so.
“I might note that each of the 12 came to the meeting determined to sign the Agreement as opposed to having to be persuaded to do so at the meeting itself.”
He said Guyana and Haiti are the two countries that expressed reservations on signing the Agreement.
“In the case of Haiti,” Mr. Laing noted, “the representative was not able to commit to signing, as she needed first to brief the President of Haiti who would then make the determination.
“She did note that Haiti had a number of concerns with the Agreement related mostly to the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause and its implication for their trade relations with the Dominican Republic.”
Mr. Laing said the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo expressed a desire to sign a “goods only” agreement and to take up the matter of services at a later time and following possible renegotiations.
Guyana also expressed the possibility of signing a goods and services agreement, if the so-called “Singapore Issues” were removed from the Agreement.
Mr. Laing explained that the Singapore Issues refer to those matters related to government procurement, intellectual property rights and investment.
“Discussions at the level of Heads were full, frank and always respectful,” the Minister said.
“In response to the issues raised by Guyana, the Heads concluded that the Singapore Issues were merely issues of transparency and called for ‘best efforts’ on the part of the CARIFORUM countries.”
He said since those issues did not call for any firm commitments, the Heads did not view them as “fundamentally vexatious”.
Mr. Laing said the Heads further concluded that since there was nothing new being raised that demonstrated any fundamental flaw in the EPA negotiations, and since the Agreement offered a net gain to CARICOM countries, they should proceed with the signing, respecting Guyana’s right to determine otherwise.
However, a final date will not be set until it can be determined that all of the signing nations will be able to attend.
Mr. Laing has explained on several occasions that the EPA has six objectives: poverty eradication; regional integration; integration of CARIFORUM states into the world economy; supporting conditions for investment and private sector development; improving capacity in trade; and trade related issues and strengthening the existing relationship between CARIFORUM and Europe.
He said the EPA recognises that ‘pace and content’ of regional integration would be determined by the sovereign states.