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Posted in: Statements from CARICOM Meetings by admin | 20 November 2007 | Release Ref #: 275/2007 | 2250

    The Twenty-Fourth Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of CARICOM and the Fourth Meeting of the CARIFORUM (CARICOM and Dominican Republic) Council of Ministers – External Trade Negotiations, met in consecutive sessions on 15 November 2007 in Guyana.

    The meetings were presided over by Minister of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Guyana, Dr. Henry Jeffrey.

    The COTED concluded after three hours of intense discussions on major agenda items including the Competition Commission; intra-regional trade; the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) and External Trade Relations, including the prioritization of negotiations.

    The COTED focused on the financing of the Competition Commission and other issues relevant to its imminent inauguration. The Competition Commission, which has its basis in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, will have its headquarters in Suriname. Its mandate includes applying the rules of competition in respect of anti-competitive cross-border business conduct and promoting and protecting competition in the Community and coordinating the implementation of the Community Competition Policy.

    In reviewing intra-regional trade issues relating to two key regional products – rice and cement – the meeting was updated on the sourcing of supplies from regional producers. Jamaica reiterated the commitment to first source its rice requirements from Guyana and Suriname. Guyana was given the assurance that Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago could meet its cement requirements.

    Delegates also discussed the financial operations of CROSQ. CROSQ is geared at promoting and developing standards and standards-related activities to facilitate international competitiveness and the sustainable production of goods and services within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

    The COTED engaged in in-depth discussions on ongoing and anticipated negotiations in the multilateral and hemispheric theatres. Acknowledging the renewed efforts to advance negotiations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha Development Round, Ministers endorsed the call by the Region’s Geneva-based representatives for greater attention to those negotiations, notwithstanding the rapidly approaching agreed schedule for concluding the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations with the European Union and the concentration of the Region’s technical and financial resources in that regard. Ministers recorded their appreciation of the role being played in the WTO by Ambassador Trevor Clarke of Barbados in advancing the case for Small Vulnerable Economies and Ambassador Gail Mathurin of Jamaica in her capacity as coordinator of the ACP Group in Geneva.

    The COTED also addressed the issues of prioritization and scheduling external trade engagements, including the commitment to deepen existing trade agreements with Cuba and the Dominican Republic, advancing the negotiations of the accession of other Central American countries to the CARICOM-Costa Rica Free Trade Agreement, the anticipated free trade negotiations with Canada and follow-up with the United States on trade issues arising from the Conference on the Caribbean held last June in Washington D.C. The COTED also deliberated on approaches by Colombia, Chile and MERCOSUR for negotiations to deepen trade relations and agreed that these and other matters related to trade will be considered by a Reflections Group made up of representatives from Member States, regional experts and other stakeholders. The report of the Reflections Group will be considered by the COTED at its next meeting in January 2008.

    The meeting of CARIFORUM Trade Ministers was devoted to a review of the state of the EPA negotiations with the European Union in the context of the agreed schedule for their completion to allow for application of the agreement from 1 January 2008. Discussions were held under several heads including Market Access which was proving to be the most contentious of the outstanding issues; the Treatment of Development in the EPA; Services and Investment. Other issues discussed included Government Procurement; Dialogue on Good Governance; Most Favoured Nations (MFN) Clause and Regional Preference.

    Given the state of the negotiations Ministers considered the various options being mooted by the European Commission, which is negotiating on behalf of the EU, in the event of the negotiations not being concluded by the end of the year. CARIFORUM Ministers were unanimous in determining that none of the options, including signature of a trade-in-goods agreement with a built-in agenda for other disciplines nor an interim agreement as defined by the EU were tenable.

    Ministers reaffirmed the commitment of CARIFORUM to continue negotiating in good faith with the objective of concluding a complete and satisfactory agreement. If this was not achieved by the end of 2007, CARIFORUM would continue the negotiations with the aim of concluding early in 2008. In the light of the European Commission’s insistence that such an eventuality would leave the EU with no option but to subject CARIFORUM trade from 1 January 2008 to its Generalised System of Preferences, CARIFORUM Ministers agreed on the need for a demarche at the highest political level on the EU, including its Member States and its institutions.

    This proposal was to be submitted to the Bureau of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community that was to meet in Barbados on 17 November. Ministers also agreed that the Development dimension of the EPA would be subject to scrutiny by the Reflections Group referred to earlier and that the draft text of the agreement would be made available to the Region’s development thinkers and practitioners for their review and input to the CARIFORUM negotiating positions.