The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must take some responsibility for the failure of Barbadian and regional businesses to take advantage of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), says Minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss.
Inniss this week told a trade forum at the Radisson Aquatica Resort it was CARICOM’s fault that there had not been a strong enough regional mechanism to help Caribbean companies to get more of their products and services into Europe under the EPA, which was signed back in October 2008 to create a free trade area between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries.
At the same time, he called on the local private sector to stop complaining and start being more proactive and “outward looking”.
Inniss, who was highlighting a number of areas where improvements were needed in order for businesses here to enjoy greater benefits from the EPA, also appealed for the relevant legislative changes necessary to help resolve some of the challenges.
“CARICOM really needs to be strengthened. I will be bold to say one of the inherent weaknesses in striving forward with the Economic Partnership Agreement has been because we have not had a strong regional mechanism to make it work. After you go and negotiate this EPA . . . a lot of the challenges that we face in rolling forward and really making things happen can really be placed at the feet of our regional institutions tasked with keeping the momentum going,” Inniss told those gathered for the talks themed, Beyond the Border: A Practical Approach to Economic Sustainability
and which examined the potential impact on the trade agreement of Britain’s exit from the EU.
“Domestically we have our challenges, but I have seen too often at the CARICOM and CARIFORUM [CARICOM and the Dominican Republic] level where we spend too much time whining and complaining and quarrelling about the EU and what the EU hasn’t done. They have provided us simply . . . with an opportunity that I don’t think at the regional level we have grabbed hold of enough.”
He said regional institutions that had the capacity to assist the businesses to take advantage of the trade agreement needed to adopt a more “laser like” approach.
Inniss said there was also need for more accurate and timely statistics to help inform some decisions, improvement in the preparation of business proposals and improved competitiveness.
Tariff barriers in some French territories in the region also need to be addressed, the local politician said.
Inniss said it was critical that the region push ahead with trade talks with the United Kingdom in order to safeguard any existing agreements and forge new ones for the post Brexit era.
“The truth of the matter is we have to be selfish, we have to look out for what is in our best interest,” added Inniss, who said London was “even more eager to embrace us in Barbados and the Caribbean”.
“But they are not going to do it unless we also get up and feel that we want to embrace them. We must stop sitting down here in the sunny islands of the Caribbean complaining and expecting manna to drop from heaven. It is not going to happen. So while the British government is working on their own challenges with the EU over the next couple of years, I say, let us get into London city and remind them that we are their friends and we want to continue doing business and do more business in the UK market and likewise with our friends in the EU,” he said.
Zeroing in on the Barbados market, Inniss said it was about time the private sector stop complaining and start being more proactive in identifying and taking advantage of global trade opportunities.
“I feel saddened whenever I know that we spend thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ dollars out there negotiating trade agreements and then they sit on a file somewhere in an office, that our private sector is not seeking to grab hold of the opportunities. What I can tell you what they are very good at doing is coming in and complaining when they feel that somebody is ‘coming into our space’ and that is when they come and say, ‘minister, you need to carry up the rates of duties’ . . . or ‘minister, we need to have other protectionist measures’. I say no, we have to learn to compete in the international arena. Nobody owes us any favour,” Inniss said.