The first meeting of the Trade and Development Committee established under the CARIFORUM–EU EPA was held in Barbados on 9 June 2011. The focus of the meeting was on reviewing the implementation of EPA commitments. CARIFORUM representatives sought to ‘impress upon the EU the importance of continued support [particular industries] within the region and express concern regard[ing] preference erosion – as it relates to agreements that the EU has with other third parties’.
On specific agriculture-related issues, the restructuring support needs of the Caribbean rum sector were highlighted. Peter Thompson, EC Director of Development and EPAs, explained in relation to tariff cuts that ‘some countries had started the process already while others had not, due to capacity constraints’. He stressed however that ‘their failure to do so was not due to a lack of commitment’ and that the EU would do its part to ‘help them turn commitment into action’.
A commitment was made to working on an ‘Aid for Trade-styled co-ordination and resource mobilisation event in 2012’ in recognition of ‘the magnitude of the financial requirements of the EPA implementation task ahead, at both regional and national levels’.
Policy analysts have noted that the CARIFORUM Secretariat and five Caribbean governments have set up EPA implementation units, but that no mechanisms have been set in place to monitoring delivery on the benefits that CARIFORUM countries expected to derive from being the first to sign a comprehensive EPA agreement. It is recognised that serious financial and human constraints are holding back the implementation of EPA commitments, while 30 months after signing the agreement it is still proving difficult to realise the expected benefits.
Agricultural trade developments, meanwhile, are continuing apace. In the banana sector, while hurricane damage has driven the Windward Islands out of the EU market, the Dominican Republic and Suriname were able in 2010 to capitalise on high prices by expanding their banana exports to the EU by 33% and 22% respectively. Indeed, press reports indicate that over the past four years the Dominican Republic ‘tripled its sales in Spain’, with 25% of the country’s banana production being exported to the European market.
In the area of non-traditional exports Antigua has initiated its first shipment of mango exports to the UK market. Currently up to 70% of Antigua’s potential annual mango production of 20,000 tonnes may be going to waste due to a lack of market opportunities. Horticultural exports from the Dominican Republic to the EU (as well as the US and Canada) are also expanding.
In the sugar sector, regional restructuring efforts are continuing. In the Dominican Republic, Central Romano Corporation has recorded record production of refined sugar (181,516 tonnes) following its total production of 430,000 tonnes of raw sugar. This expanded refined sugar production is primarily intended for the domestic Dominican market.
In sectors such as sugar, in view of the price developments on EU, US and world markets, it is unclear whether EU markets for raw sugar remain the primary focus of these restructuring efforts. Restructuring support mobilised alongside the EPA process may well increasingly need to be targeted at supporting value-added processing for national, regional and even third-country markets.
This could pose a dilemma for the European Commission and EU member states, which may not wish to see EU funding used to support production and market diversification beyond the EU. This issue has already arisen within the Integrated Development Programme for the Caribbean Rum Sector. This may well be the kind of issue which should be dealt with up front within the dialogue undertaken in the Trade and Development Committee. This would then free up the ‘aid for trade’-supported restructuring process, to allow Caribbean private-sector operators to pursue production and market adjustments consistent with emerging market opportunities, wherever they are in the world. Thus we might find there is as much of a premium-priced market for branded, high-quality Caribbean rum in China and Australia as in the EU, and that restructuring assistance might be more cost-effectively deployed in supporting market development efforts in these countries rather than individual EU markets.