By Sir Ronald Sanders
Not many people in the Caribbean would know the name, David Martin, but it is one that will become well known when Parliamentarians from the European Union (EU) and Cariforum begin the serious business of monitoring the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and Cariforum countries.
Article 231 of the EPA provides for the creation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to undertake the monitoring process. And, it’s in the interest of the Cariforum countries made up of the 14 independent member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Dominican Republic, to get their members of the JPC in place pretty quickly.
It will be recalled that the EPA became a controversial issue in the Caribbean and many commentators, including me, expressed unhappiness with many aspects of it and, particularly, about the manner in which many Cariforum governments were brow-beaten by the EU negotiators into signing a full agreement – one that included goods and services.
At the insistence of the President of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo, the EPA includes a requirement for a “mandatory comprehensive review” of the agreement no later than five years after it was signed and at subsequent five year intervals.
This important clause gives Cariforum governments an opportunity to ensure that the EPA serves the economic and social interests of their countries and actually contributes to development. In this connection, the participation by Carforum countries in the JPC is extremely important for they can raise concerns directly with their EU counterparts and pursue change.
The weight and influence of the EU parliamentarians is considerable. They can – and do – hold both the European Commission and the European Council of Ministers (government representatives of all member states) to account for their actions.
When disquiet was expressed in the Caribbean over the EPA, the EU Parliament held its own inquiry into final agreement which went beyond requirements that would have made it compatible with rules of the World Trade Organisation.
And this brings us to David Martin. He is an able and well-liked British member of the European Parliament from Scotland. A member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament, Martin is concerned that the EU should contribute to the improvement of developing nations.
In March 2009, the EU Parliament adopted a Resolution submitted by a Committee of which David Martin was Rapporteur. The Resolution took careful account of the situation of Cariforum countries and the importance of monitoring the implementation of the EPA.
Among the matters to which the Resolution drew attention were: the necessity for the EC “to support the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism within Carifourm states endowed with the necessary resources to undertake the analysis necessary to determine the extent to which the EPA is achieving its objectives.”
The EU parliamentarians in their Resolution also showed regard for the integration efforts of CARICOM countries. The parliamentarians clearly stated that they recognised that Cariforum states had made commitments under the EPA “in subject areas not yet settled under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) or fully implemented”. And, they called for “due regard to the CSME” in the implementation of provisions of the EPA in these subject areas.
They also called for early provision of aid-for-trade resources to Caribbean countries and they insisted that these should be “additional” resources and “not merely a repackaging of the European Development Fund (EDF) funding”. They recommended that the release of such funds should be used to compensate for loss of customs revenues from lower tariffs on imported EU goods and to address competitiveness and development enhancing needs.
Very importantly, the EU parliamentarians called for the monitoring of the EU’s implementation of its commitments “in particular disbursement and effective delivery of pledged financial and technical assistance”.
In all this, the EU parliamentarians have demonstrated a higher level of commitment and concern to development in Cariforum countries than was the case in the negotiations of the EPA by negotiators for the European Commission. Thus far, they have demonstrated that they would be beneficial allies in trying to make the EPA deliver benefits to Cariforum countries by monitoring its implementation and being ready to correct its problems once they are identified.
The EU Parliament has already put its members in place for the joint EU-Cariforum parliamentary committee. At a meeting on September 8th, fifteen Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were elected with David Martin as Chair.
Very shortly, the President of the European Parliament – Jerzy Buzek – will write to the Parliaments of the Cariforum states advising them of the composition of the JPC on the EU side and proposing a timetable for meetings in 2011.
Several uncertainties surround the participation of Cariforum states in the JPC.
First, unlike, the EU, neither CARICOM nor Cariforum has a joint elected parliament. Therefore, nominations for the 15 members of Cariforum side of the JPC will have to come from the parliament of each country. One would hope that national parliaments would each elect, on a non-partisan basis, a representative who has a keen interest in these matters.
Second, it is not at all certain that each of the Cariforum countries has established machinery for monitoring the implementation of the EPA. Yet, such machinery is imperative to advise both national governments and the representative on the JPC.
Third, funding for the participation of the Cariforum members in the JPC has not been addressed in the EPA, or anywhere else so far. But, it is an issue that needs attention so that Cariforum members can attend these meetings without being beholden to the European Commission.
These matters should be settled soon and the Cariforum representatives put in place. Of course, the irony of this will be that Cariforum countries will have a common group of parliamentary representatives to deal with their relations with the EU under the EPA, but they will still not have a similar body for dealing with their own Single Market and Economy.
The irony apart, it is in the interest of the people of the Cariforum countries that a good team of representatives be elected to serve on the JPC to ensure that the promises of the EPA are fulfilled and its shortcomings corrected on the strength of experience.
(The writer is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat. This column was written from Brussels, the European Union Headquarters)
Responses and previous commentaries at: www.sirronaldsanders.com
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