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CARICOM Outlines Trade Negotiation Priorities

by Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.com, Washington

20 May 2011


As members of the Caribbean Community gather to discuss the region's external trade agenda, CARICOM has released a snapshot of what it calls the state of play of ongoing negotiations.

Ministers began discussions on May 19, at the 32nd Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development. The CARICOM Secretariat has reiterated the dual focus of its trade agenda, referencing both multilateral and bilateral negotiations. On the one hand, the safeguarding of regional interests under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha Round is seen as a priority, while on the other, CARICOM has also pursued a Trade and Development Agreement with Canada, the Region’s third-largest trading partner.

CARICOM has already taken part in three rounds of bilateral negotiations with Canada, which it stresses have been "fruitful preliminary exchanges leading to greater clarity on positions and perspectives on a number of issues". CARICOM states have also held their own regional consultations, aimed at finalizing initial text proposals. The most recent of CARICOM's Canadian talks, which took place at the beginning of April, saw the presentation of a series of written proposals on subjects including safeguards, agriculture and fisheries, technical barriers to trade, international issues, the facilitation of business persons, dispute avoidance and settlement, and development cooperation. Framework texts on trade in services and investment were also offered.

It is anticipated that a fourth Round will be held in the Caribbean, in anticipation of which both parties will consider a detailed programme of work which CARICOM and Canada were also able to identify during the last Round.

With regards to Doha, CARICOM emphasizes its active participation in intensified negotiations spanning all facets of the multilateral trade round, taking particular interest in the Negotiating Groups for Rules, Trade Facilitation, Trade and Environment, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, Agriculture, Non-Agriculture Market Access, Services and Dispute Settlement.

However, CARICOM also recognizes the limited progress made thus far, noting that the intensified pace of negotiations has sadly not realized the desired results. The Secretariat references the failure to secure the provision of revised texts in all Negotiating Groups by Easter, 2011, and the ongoing tension between the US and China on NAMA sectorals, which it calls unmanageable. It is pointed out that, although the issue of sectorals does not directly impact the Caribbean, the region has concrete interests in the treatment of the issue. For example, although gems and jewellery currently benefits from preferential treatment, the sector is constantly exposed to the threat of inclusion in sectorals. The effect of such inclusion would be to reduce the participating countries’ tariffs to zero, thereby removing any preference margin enjoyed by the Caribbean.

The Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) Group - the Group to which most CARICOM countries are affiliated – is also interested in adding their own issues to the table.

CARICOM has set out a list of principal Caribbean interests, which include:

  • Implementation of the capacity-building pillar of trade facilitation negotiations;
  • Making SVEs exempt from any disciplines in fisheries subsidies - the aim of the negotiations is to limit the environmental damage caused by overfishing, but CARICOM maintains that the Caribbean’s share of global fishing catch is too miniscule to inflict damage; and
  • Reforming the Dispute Settlement Body in a manner that would enhance the treatment of small economies, which CARICOM says is important in light of the experience of Antigua and Barbuda in the internet gaming case, and in the case of other Caribbean countries whose rights in preference erosion cases were limited to third party status.

Were negotiations suspended altogether, CARICOM argues that the Caribbean’s core interest would be the safeguarding of those development gains already established in the draft modalities. In particular, CARICOM would hope to see:

  • The preservation of the current texts on tariff reduction modalities, preference erosion and treatment of the Trade Related Technical Assistance pillar in Trade Facilitation; and
  • The multilateral pursuit of the African Caribbean Pacific Group of Countries/European Union/Most Favoured Nation Suppliers’ Agreement on Preference Erosion/Tropical products that accompanied the conclusion of the long-standing trade dispute on bananas.

The WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee, responsible for the talks, is due to reconvene on May 31, and CARICOM anticipates that the future of the Round will be decided at this meeting.

TAGS: Haiti | Suriname | investment | business | Bahamas | Montserrat | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | tariffs | World Trade Organisation (WTO) | Belize | China | Grenada | Jamaica | Trinidad and Tobago | agreements | internet | trade disputes | Antigua and Barbuda | Canada | Dominica | Guyana | Saint Kitts and Nevis | trade | Barbados

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