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A chance for Caricom

By By Richard Charan

Of the 15 CARIFORUM member States, the Dominican Republic is the country that has taken the most advantage of the favourable trade provisions contained in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed with the European Union (EU).

The country, which shares an island with Haiti, has been able to make more than US$1 billion through its exports of banana, cocoa and other produce since the EPA was signed four years ago.

Part of its success is the investment made in making its products competitive in a challenging global marketplace during a period of where there was an international economic crisis, coupled with an apparent lack of commitment by some regional governments to the EPA.

Then there is the sheer complexity of the EPA and the difficulty in interpreting and navigating it.

The EPA has given CARIFORUM States (CARICOM members plus the Dominican Republic) immediate duty-free, quota-free access to markets of the 27 EU States in sectors including business services, tourism, finance, communications, construction, distribution, environmental, transport and recreation.

Fewer than half the CARIFORUM countries have ratified the agreement, which has a strong development component meant to assist the small countries in development of capacity over a period of years before it must reciprocate.

However, during last month's media workshop held in Grenada, the EPA Implementation Unit of the Caricom Secretariat sought to raise the profile of the agreement, which, properly understood and effectively used, can transform the economies of some countries.

In recognition of this, some CARIFORUM member States have begun creating, or in some cases, activating EPA implementation units within their trade related ministries, with the Dominican Republic leading the way. Its EPA implementation unit is said to be staffed by 29 people.

In Trinidad and Tobago, where several businesses and individuals have penetrated the markets of the EU using the EPA, much is left to be done.

Much of the work is now in the hands of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment's trade director Norris Herbert.

As part of the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this year, Stephen Cadiz was moved out of the ministry and replaced by Vasant Bharath.

Herbert said the Trade Implementation Unit became operational last year when its Programme Coordinator assumed office.

However that person has since left and interviews have been held with the expectation that the position will be filled shortly.

In the meantime, Herbert said he is supervising the work of the Unit. Herbert along with Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, and other technocrats, last week attended the twentieth meeting of the Council of Ministers of CARIFORUM in Santiago, Dominican Republic, which has chairmanship of the regional bloc.

Herbert said since assuming office in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment Minister Bharath has been focussed on the realignment of the organisations and institutions under his responsibility.

"In this regard, the Business Development Company Ltd (renamed ExporTT) has been refocussed to treat will all matters related to export only, to all markets. This means that all the activities related to exporting to Europe will be undertaken by ExporTT."

Herbert said the organisation is now charged with the mandate of taking advantage of the favourable provisions in the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement for both goods and services.

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