Caribbean Community (CARICOM) private sector trade officials, uncertain about the future of trading with Britain after it leaves the European Union (EU) in 2019, are considering options that they can present to London post-Brexit.
A number of developmental agencies, regional bodies and government representatives are meeting at the Radisson Aquatica Resort in a forum on the implications of Brexit for the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), a trade deal between the European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.
The United Kingdom (UK) accounts for about 21 per cent of total export to the EU. However, when the UK leaves Europe it will no longer be a party to the EPA, which was signed in October 2008, giving preferential trade deals to CARICOM member states.
In addition, EU leaders have made it clear Britain will not be allowed to reach any trade deals with third countries before there is clear progress on the terms of the break up.
Speaking today on the final day of the two-day forum, Director General of the CARICOM Office of Trade Negotiation Gail Mathurin said there are options for the region, but the authorities could do nothing but wait.
“We need to first of all determine what that arrangement will be, what kind of arrangement can we have with the UK which ensures continuity in our trade with the UK,” Mathurin told the meeting themed, Beyond the Border: A Practical Approach to Economic Sustainability.
She said a likely option was a new agreement that would include existing EPA provisions to ensure continuity of trade with the UK immediately following the divorce from Europe.
The CARICOM official also proposed an arrangement that would include a waiver in the World Trade Organization (WTO), “which would allow both CARIFORUM [CARICOM and the Dominican Republic] members and the UK to reach their most favoured nation obligations”.
However, Mathurin said it was a political option, and would also be new territory for the region and the WTO, since it had never been done before.
“A third possibility is that the region may determine that it wishes to negotiate the EPA provisions in order to seek better terms, particularly in services, investment and development cooperation,” she added.
“If we want a new agreement with the UK . . . we will have to assess very carefully where we fall in the priority list of the UK. And we need to note very carefully what the UK is saying about its future trading policies. First of all it has to negotiate with the EU and then reach out to the larger economies, Australia, United States,” she said.
Mathurin said in the coming months the matter would be discussed among Caribbean trade ministers, and “hopefully in July”, by heads of governments.