EU EPA’s not a priority

PARAMARIBO–It appears ratifying the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed between the ACP and the European Union in 2008, has no priority on the political agenda. Trade and Industry Minister Raymond Sapoen said that after talks with Chairman Rabin Parmessar of the Parliamentary Commission, ratifying the EPA’s even seems “a station in the rearview mirror. We’re focusing on the resilience of the local sectors,” the Minister told De Ware Tijd daily.

The EPAs represent a set of “new trading arrangements” between ACP countries and the EU. Up to 2007, ACP countries enjoyed preferential access to the European market, while they could apply barriers on imports from the EC, whereas they had almost duty free-quota free access to EC market. This preferential access violated the World Trade Organization’s requirement of non-discrimination. Initially December 31st 2007 was set as deadline for the conclusions of EPAs. The deadline was extended till January 1st 2014, but according to Parmessar Government and Parliament will probably need even more time to study the pros and the cons.

He said that as EPA’s could potentially have far reaching implications for a country, Suriname cannot afford to move too fast. The Parliamentarian hints that EPA’s will for instance allow European companies to export their goods duty to Suriname. European companies will also have free access to bid on public bids in Suriname. “We should be careful not to create a situation where European companies get to decide what happens here, and leave nothing for our local business,” said Parmessar.

If Suriname had jumped the gun and signed in 2007, it would have needed permission from other ACP memberstates and the EU to accept membership of the South American trading blocs like UNASUR it joined recently.

EPA ratification on the other hand would also mean that Suriname will continue to enjoy preferential treatment with high volume, duty free export of rice and bananas to the European market.

Parmessar said that if Suriname doesn’t meet the deadline, it will apply for an extension, like other ACP countries have done. “Either way, EPA ratification is not a priority that will be tabled this year,” said Sapoen after his talk with the Parliamentary Commission chairman.