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< Current local time in Suriname – Paramaribo
BRUSSELS–Joyce van Genderen-Naar, a Brussels based lawyer who is very much at home in European Union (EU) matters is cautioning Caribbean nations against ratifying the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and the Cariforum countries. “Ratifying this agreement will be disastrous to our countries, as it will open our doors to more imports from the EU … yes, our exports will have 100% access to European markets, but we don’t have the means to,” warned Suriname-born Van Genderen-Naar who in her capacity as lawyer acts as advisor to Caribbean organizations in EU matters.
The CARIFORUM-EU EPA, signed in October 2008, is a trade and development agreement which covers not only trade in goods, but also services, investment, social and labor standards, competition policy and transparency in government procurement. It is the first (and, to date, only) comprehensive regional EPA in any ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) region. The agreement was signed on 15 October 2008 and provisionally applied as of 29 December 2008. It provides for the gradual and asymmetric liberalization of trade in goods, services and investment between the Caribbean signatories and the EU with the objective of fostering the sustainable development of the Caribbean region.
Van Genderen-Naar said countries like Suriname should place their best judicial staff on this agreement before actually tabling it in Parliament for ratification. “These are very complex matters that even I as a lawyer who deals with them daily, have trouble understanding. But they should not be taken lightly, because if we’re not careful, products in our countries will become more expensive and people will suffer.”
She explained that under the EU regime, Caribbean countries will no longer be allowed to levy customs duties for imports from the EU. “And customs duties are a substantial source of income for Caribbean countries like Suriname,” she said.
Meanwhile, she continued, EU countries place high demands on goods that may be imported into their markets. “They have all sorts of rules and standards that you can only apply to, if you have the latest techniques and most modern equipment; we don’t have those techniques and equipments, so we will not be able to comply, which means that our exports will diminish. So while we earn less from customs duties, we also have less income from exports. . If we sign this agreement we will basically allow the EU at our bread and butter,” she said.
The lawyer hinted that this is no different from the track records European Countries have left over the past 500 years. “In their eyes we are still no more than territories there for their profit,” she said.
She said Suriname has enough other opportunities for its exports. “There are enough other countries and regions that want to do business with us. If we don’t ratify this agreement, the only thing that could harm is our banana export. But not our bauxite exports to Norway (Norway is not a member of the EU) or our oil exports. It cannot hurt our tourism industry. On the other hand, China is showing a lot of interest in Suriname, as is Brazil,” she said, emphasizing: “Suriname already has a tough time entering the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) with its exports. Imagine how much tougher the EU will make it for us if we open our markets to them like this. We’re not at equal playing level, so we should think this through properly.”
Total EU trade with the Caribbean region amounts to more than €8.5 billion per year. EU exports to the Caribbean include chemicals and machinery and transport equipment. Caribbean exports to the EU include agricultural products, fuels and chemicals. The CARIFORUM region includes 15 countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti signed the Agreement on 10 December 2009.