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Thursday, June 22, 2006 

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Caribbean prepares for new deal with

It's a changing world and nowhere is that change more evident than in the evolving relations between the former colonial powers and the nations that once served them. Where benefits from north to south were once conferred through large grants and heavy trade subsidies for sugar, bananas and other commodities, we now receive loans, technical assistances and some trade preferences ... all under an arrangement called an economic partnership agreement. In January of 2008, a new economic partnership agreement between the European Union and CARIFORUM countries--including Belize--will come into effect. To prepare for those negotiations officials are trying to determine just what it is we want. Alyssa Noble reports.

Alyssa Noble, Reporting
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade along with representatives from the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery today held national consultations on the Economic Partnership Agreement currently being negotiated between CARIFORUM countries and the European Union. According to the Ministry’s Luis Salazar, Belize is expected to take full advantage of all E.P.A. has to offer.

Luis Salazar, Foreign Service Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Foreign Trade
“Our trade right now with the European Union is basically traditional commodities, but we have a series of non-traditional crops with potential to export. According to data coming in from the Ministry of Agriculture, roughly on an annual basis we are exporting forty million Belize dollars of non-traditional crops. Services, tourism, definitely we have a great potential to develop. We need to market our services industry particularly tourism for the European market.”

And while the prospect of trading with economic superpowers is a daunting concept, Vincent Atkins, Senior Research Professional of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery says “Asymmetry” is the key to making this E.P.A. work for the Caribbean.

Vincent Atkins, Senior Research Professional, C.R.N.M.
“We would not be required to grant the same degree, the same extent of concessions to the E.U. as we would require from the E.U. So that while we would open our markets to the E.U., it would not be to the same extent that the E.U. is expected to open up its own market to our products.”

Representatives of the private sector, however, have doubts, especially as they relate to Belize’s agricultural and services sector.

Jose Alpuche, C.E.O., Belize Agro-productive Sector
“Well the first major concern that we have really is that we believe we are being boxed into an unrealistic deadline. Eighteen months to complete the negotiations with the E.U. is really unrealistic and we are very concerned that the pressure of time versus a quality agreement, we prefer to stick for quality. I think our negotiators in the region; the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery in particular, needs to take a much more stronger approach in defending our interests.”

David Gomez, Launch Pad Consulting, Services Sector
“I think one of the challenges for us in the E.P.A. negotiating process would be to have the different services sector realize themselves in terms of coming together, providing some form of structure and finding out exactly what it is that they would like to achieve out of the negotiating process. I’m not sure that we have that combination yet and I don’t think we have the understanding of where we want to take services. If Belize could move towards a more offensive negotiating posture that would be better for us.”
Not until the consultation process is completed at the end of the year will we know officially what the E.P.A. has in store for Belize, but until then members of the private sector are strongly encouraged to contact officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade to voice their concerns.
Alyssa Noble reporting for News Five.
The CARIFORUM bloc is made up of the CARICOM nations plus the Dominican Republic.

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