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Caribbean Leaders Concerned Over EC Duty-Free Proposals

Mandy Robinson,, London

20 November 2000

The Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) heads of government have expressed fears over recent European Commission recommendations to give exports from many of the poverty-stricken countries around the world access to the European market on a duty-free and quota-free basis.

At a prime ministerial sub-committee meeting last week in Barbados CARICOM argued that not only will the proposals endanger the Caribbean's regional exports to the European continent, they also infringe the existing Cotonou Agreement between the European Union and most developing countries including the Caribbean nations, which awards goods from the Caribbean community preferential treatment in Europe.

Chairman of the organisation, Percival Patterson, confirmed that CARICOM leaders accepted the need for poor nations to be helped in the fight against poverty but they bemoaned the fact that there was no prior consultation with the African, Caribbean and Pacific group partners (ACP), contrary to the mutual agreement before the signing of the Cotonou Agreement: 'Our position is that the Cotonou agreement requires consultation before any such process can begin. We are insisting on the right to be consulted, not to be called in and told that which has been decided, but to be involved in consultations.'

CARICOM felt that concessions to 48 of the world’s poorest nations would have a negative impact on export to Europe of Caribbean commodities including sugar, rice and bananas. Mr Patterson confirmed that the Caribbean leaders were worried that 'almost with immediate effect, the (Lesser Developed Countries) are going to be accorded duty-free access for unlimited quantities into Europe for everything except arms.'

An example of this highlighted at the meeting was Guyana and Suriname, which between them export around 300,000 tons of rice each year; this could be wiped out entirely by just one week’s duty-free access to a country like Bangladesh, which currently produces some 30 million tons of rice per year.

President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana stated that the problems of regional countries like Guyana – the largest sugar and rice producer of the area – were compounded by a 35 percent tariff for entry into the European market for rice exports, he said: 'There is no way we can compete.'


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