Errol Humphrey is a well-respected public figure who revealed himself as the vice-dean of the Caribbean team that negotiated the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Since he recently publicly challenged my assessment of the EPA, and given his prominent position, I reviewed the agreement again to see whether I had missed something. I did not. In my opinion, the EPA remains the worst trade agreement ever negotiated for the Caribbean.
Mr Humphrey did not address the fact that his trade team kept the draft agreement secret and would not allow me to review it despite repeated requests. If they are negotiating on my behalf, then why must I only get to see what they have negotiated for me after it is signed? That is the worst known way to negotiate a modern trade agreement.
Mr Humphrey does address the six-month residency restriction in Europe, but does so by stating that it is not a restriction. Let me quote him.
“The EPA, contrary to what Mr Phillips seems to think or would like to see, does not cover immigration. It is customary to exclude immigration issues from trade agreements. The EPA, as was intended and is appropriate, provides guaranteed market access, on a temporary basis, for a variety of service suppliers.”
Mr Humphrey makes two important but erroneous points. First, that the EPA does not cover immigration matters, and second, that the EPA provides guaranteed market access.
On the first point, the EPA specifies limits of immigration, for example, “The temporary entry and stay of natural persons within the Party concerned shall be for a cumulative period of not more than 6 months.” (EPA, Article 83 (e)) This is an immigration restriction.
On the second point, if one wanted to properly negotiate guaranteed access for 6 months, then the wording of the agreement would specify a residency limit of “not less than six months” or simply six months”. We have a duty to our children to negotiate trade agreements that do not lend themselves to easy misinterpretation.
The wording of “not more than six months” does not guarantee a six-month stay or a six-day stay. It guarantees nothing. The EPA is full of these careless, or clever “guarantees”. Mr Humphrey does not address the fact that a 12-month construction project is too short to be competitive for Caribbean contractors.
Instead, he attempts to school me on how I should do work in Europe. He wrote that if I am “truly desirous” of working on long duration (or lucrative) projects in Europe, then I should open a company in Europe. I wonder if we are looking at the same EPA agreement.
The European Union has not harmonized trade agreements with its constituent members. Therefore, each European country has its own trade barriers which are stated in the Agreement. For example, if I wanted to open a company in Sweden, then at least half of the company’s directors must be citizens of and resident in Sweden. (EPA, Annex IV, A)
It is worth revealing that if a European company wants to start a company in Barbados, then 100 per cent of its directors can be European. I can understand why the European negotiators would try to convince our Caribbean negotiators that this is a favourable deal for the Caribbean.
However, this is one reason why draft trade agreements should never be kept secret. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14).
Mr Humphrey disputes that the construction industry is as lucrative as I have claimed. Perhaps he is unaware of the construction industry’s significant contribution to the GDP of Caribbean countries. However, it does explain why the construction industry was negotiated away in favour of the cultural industries.
Thank you for your service, Mr Humphrey!
(Grenville Phillips II is the founder of Solutions Barbados and can be reached at [email protected])