Caribbean’s PJ Patterson on EPA: Region’s unity was its ‘greatest weapon’Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 Source : Guardian TT
It seems that some nations are more equal than others. A case of David versus Goliath. There is the European Union, one of the world’s largest economic and geo-political blocs, and, on the other hand, Caricom, one of the world’s smallest blocs. The European nations, former colonial masters of the Caribbean, walked away with most of the benefits in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was signed in 2008, says PJ (Percival Noel James) Patterson, former prime minister of Jamaica. “The concept of proportionality has been thrown out the window. Indeed, some are more equal than others. Inequality is evident, no visas are required for entry in most of our countries, while we need a Schengen Visa or United Kingdom permit to step foot on European soil,” he said. The Schengen Visa has made travelling between its 25 member countries (22 European Union states and three non-EU members) much easier and less bureaucratic. Travelling on a Schengen Visa means that the visa holder can travel to any (or all) member countries using one single visa, in so doing avoiding the hassle and expense of obtaining individual visas for each country.
The EPA agreement, signed between the EU and Caricom and the Dominican Republic in 2008, saw the Europeans arguing it would gradually open both markets to each other which would aid the Caribbean’s development. Patterson, one of the region’s foremost diplomats and political leaders, tore into the imbalance in the relationship between the EU and the Caribbean region. He spared no words as he painted a picture of the EU as a colonial power unwilling to let go of its former colonies. He attacked the late Robin Cook, the UK’s former foreign secretary, for lacking diplomatic skills and accused the United States’ George Bush administration of taking unilateral action across the globe. He said the “greatest weapon” that the African, Pacific and Caribbean (ACP) countries had was unity in negotiating as a single group. “No matter the nature and extent of the particular interest of each state or group, we realised there was a commonality of interests. Unless we pursued these negotiations as a single group, the result would be an abject failure. Rival empires had been built on the axis of divide and rule - our unity was our greatest strength,” he said. Patterson accused the European powers of a ruthless policy of divide and conquer, with the ultimate objective to “defeat” developing nations one by one.
“Even the least sceptical person, or the most difficult juror to persuade, must by now have been convinced that the determination of the EU to create regional economic partnership agreement was for one purpose only: that is, to dismantle the formidable arsenal of the ACP combined, to fragment its collective power and then defeat us one by one. To repeat once again how this exposed the Caribbean to the EPA would now be a quixotic adventure.” Patterson was speaking on international trade at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) International Law Seminar, held at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain, on September 27. Patterson noted that other countries in the ACP group are also negotiating EPAs, but none has been completed like the Caricom region. “None of the other six ACP groups, each negotiating separately, has yet concluded a comprehensive EPA to accord with the EU’s allotted timeframe. It seems to go well beyond the realms of trade and economic relations to encompass issues of shrewd sovereignty and areas of supranational governance,” he said.
He painted a gloomy picture, saying that “storm clouds” are beginning to appear four years after the EPA has been signed.
“There is the rate and pace of tariff adjustments in the face of existing budgetary requirements and tight fiscal constraints. Also, the absence of funding obligations as part of the EPA, and these reflected in the European Development Fund (EDF) as part of the Cotonou Agreement. Then you have an area of great potential, which is services, but who will qualify for access from the Caribbean?” he asked. To deal with these issues, Patterson recommended the region develop the technical skills.
“What becomes evident is that within Cariforum in the Caribbean Community itself and also in the member states, we will have to create the range of skills necessary to engage in the proper interpretation of the EPA, the enforcement of the provisions, the settling of disputes, which are bound to arise, and the appearing before the tribunals and courts which have the appropriate jurisdiction.”
WTO and the Caribbean
Patterson said the statistics show a “fair involvement” of Caricom countries in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement system. “They have been involved as both complainants and respondents. The frequent challenges in the WTO to the EC’s regime of non-reciprocal preferences and internal challenges to the Common Agricultural Policy have been bitter pills to the Caribbean. Caricom countries have to put themselves in the best position to seek due protection of their vital interests,” he said. The region must be well prepared for negotiating at these international fora. “It provides another reason why Caricom must ensure that their delegations, whether in Geneva or in Brussels, include not only economists or social scientists, but also lawyers with specialist training in international law and international trade.
Obviously, the same should apply to the manning of the relevant ministries and departments at the domestic level.” He spoke of glaring inconsistencies of the execution of national trade policies and the filing of WTO complaints. “Huge agricultural subsidies, which hurt our local farmers because heavily subsidised agricultural products, can be imported more cheaply. Then there is the threat to the Caribbean rum industry by virtue of huge subsidies on rum from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin islands. “Also, there is the failure to settle with Antigua and Barbuda for violating the General Agreement of Trade in Services by refusing to allow Internet gambling into the US, said Patterson, asking, “Does this evidence point to fair and unequal treatment?”
Caribbean and international law
Patterson advised small Caribbean states to do everything to make its contribution to international law, despite their size.
“For small states lacking military power, like those in the Caribbean, observance of the rule of law is an imperative. We must put our faith in international law to uphold right over might and law over force. We must do everything in our power to ensure that we contribute in a meaningful way to the content of international law,” he said. In highlighting how unfair the international economic and legal system is, Patterson quoted UK’s former foreign secretary Robin Cook on the International Criminal Court (ICC): “If I may so say, this is not a court set up to book prime ministers of the UK and or presidents of the USA.”
Patterson also said: “The Bush administration demanded that signatories to the ICC must expressly consent to the exemption of US citizens from prosecution and trial before the court or suffer the withdrawal of aid supports for defence and security programmes.” Patterson said this clearly implied is an acceptance that the ICC and similar tribunals would exempt leaders of powerful states, no matter “the illegality of their acts,” while those who belong to “lesser breeds” of the law would be subject to punishment.
October 4, 2012