Outspoken Government Minister Donville Inniss is calling for a full review of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, including Barbados, and the European Union given the failure of regional businesses to take full advantage of the trade, investment and economic cooperation deal.
Speaking this morning at the launch of the second edition of Caribbean Export Outlook, a magazine published by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, an obviously disappointed Inniss, who is the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, chastised private sector and CARICOM leaders for “making excuses” instead of doing more to access opportunities in EU markets through the EPA which has been in place since October 2008.
“We have reached a point where we really have to do a thorough assessment of the [Economic] Partnership Agreement and whether we have taken full advantage of the opportunities or not,” the minister said.
Urging the private sector to stop making excuses as to why they were not taking advantage of the agreement, Inniss pointed out that the EU had provided millions of Euros over the years to help the Caribbean to put necessary systems in place to do business under the deal.
“The Europeans do not have to give us any money but once they made that decision to continue to partner with us and invest their taxpayers’ money down here in the region, the duty falls to each and everyone of us to stop making excuses, get up, take advantage of not just the money but the systems that they are building in the region,” said Inniss.
He went on: “I am very disappointed that we have not yet grabbed hold of that opportunity and my disappointment, quite frankly, lies in some of the regional organizations [and] some of the regional leaders who are quick to find reasons why we can’t do things.
“They seek to maintain their longevity and keep positions in regional organizations. It becomes somewhat of an old boys network of individuals who recycle themselves through the systems, many who have never sold lemonade, so they never know what it is like to run a business in this region.”
“The time has come for us to be very frank about these kinds of characters and systems and the way in which they inhibit the growth and development of this region,” said the outspoken Government minister.
Inniss revealed that a recent check by staff in his ministry as to what were the perceived challenges in getting the EPA to function at its full capacity, had revealed that there was a lack of international competitiveness or export readiness among some local firms, a need for Barbados to put in place a modern sanitary and phytosanitary regime, as well as complaints from both the private and public sector about an “information deficit”.
“The truth of the matter is that we cannot sit back in this region anymore and make excuses. We really have to do better at delivering,” said Inniss.
He dismissed suggestions that there was a lack of information, pointing out that since the signing of the EPA some seven-and-a-half years ago, there has been a number of publications, meetings, seminars and workshops held across the region to promote awareness and understanding of the agreement.
“It really tells me that we have a sense of intellectual laziness in the region when it comes to these matters. Nobody in this region should be saying they don’t know much about EPA,” he said, pointing out that the Barbados Government alone had spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultancies, seminars and training” related to the EPA.
Other concerns that were raised, Inniss reported, included a lack of motivation among the business community to “become proactive and explore EPA related activities”.
He also pointed to the “serious issue” of inability or unwillingness among business operators to prepare project proposals to seek support from development cooperation partners.
“My concern is that we have a business community that needs to do much more to motivate itself. It is rather unfair that as public officers we go out there and negotiate all of these trade agreements, people open their markets to our goods and services and then we sit back here in this region, ask for a higher level of protection of our domestic space and domestic activities and do not grab hold of the opportunities that avail themselves to get into other people’s market,” Inniss said.
In relation to sanitary and phytosanitary measures which apply to agricultural trade, Inniss said there was need for legislative reform to accommodate the necessary changes, noting that Government was in the process of “accelerating” this aspect.