Caribbean countries that already have a mutual recognition regime in place among their relevant professional bodies could soon be given easier access to European Union (EU) markets.
This suggestion has come from Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Business Development Sandra Husbands, who explained that this would allow service members in those member states to take full advantage of the underutilised Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM and the EU.
This move, she said, would result in service providers in the CARIFORUM states with mutual recognition processes not having to wait for the mutual recognition between CARIFORUM and the EU, one of the provisions under the EPA.
Husbands told the virtual Caribbean Services Exporter’s Symposium on Wednesday that she has put forward the case to EU representatives, noting that recently she was able to share challenges the region was having in completing the mutual recognition agreement process among service providers organisations across CARIFORUM states.
“I encourage those countries that have not established coalitions of services to do so, so that they can reap the benefits that these partnerships bring. In doing so, we may draw closer to completing the mutual recognition process, thereby facilitating the progression of trade in services by natural persons,” she said.
“We explained that there might be a need for an interim arrangement that helps those that do qualify to move ahead, rather than waiting until the region can develop a regional mutual recognition agreement process. I am happy to say that they said that it was worth looking at, and that we should at least discuss how we could make something like that happen so as to make the EPA work so much better for all of us.”
Husbands said her wish was to see a more joint approach to marketing and certification in the region.
A mutual recognition system would operate similarly to the CARICOM Skills Certificate scheme, allowing qualified and competent service providers such as engineers, architects, tourism operators and accountants to have ease of access to each market.
A bilateral mutual recognition agreement between CARIFORUM and the EU, CARIFORUM and the US and CARIFORUM and Canada, would provide CARIFORUM service providers with ease of access to those international markets without having to undergo an individual assessment to show they meet the requirements and standards to operate in those markets.
Indicating that there was still a lot of work to be done across CARICOM states when it came to standards, Husbands told the gathering that “it can’t be that you get up one morning and say ‘I am going to be a consultant in X, Y or Z’.”
“I think what we should have, through our accreditation councils at the regional level, is that you should be able to attend an assessment programme, a professional development programme that you are then certified. This is where the universities can be of assistance to us . . . to say, ‘this person has met some type of international standard and therefore, should be able to deliver on this project what they say they can deliver’,” she said.
“I think this is part of the work that we need to do so that we begin to keep some of that money in the region as earnings, not only for our professionals and UWI graduates who need to work for significant income but also in terms of the contribution to employment and the contribution to government revenues,” Husbands added.
Trinidad and Tobago-based certified IT and management consultant Rabindra Jaggernauth said he believed there was a need for sector-specific mutual recognition agreements that would allow those operators to go ahead and benefit from offering their services in the EU.
“What it means is that if your products and services are assessed in one country or one region, it is acceptable in the other region with which you have this mutual recognition agreement,” he explained.
“There are tremendous benefits to having this – reduced time and cost to market; you don’t have to individually go through an assessment but because you have been assessed by one region, meaning CARICOM, you are able to provide your services in the EU and by extension, provide services into America and Canada once we have mutual recognition agreements in those areas.”
Jaggernauth said mutual recognition agreements would encourage more service providers in the region to seek international opportunities and increase their competitiveness within the region.