Wednesday, 30 July 2014

EU committed to regional support

The European Union remains committed to supporting regional integration and development in the Caribbean.

So says Ambassador Mikael Barfod, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean. His comments came as he explained that such commitment will be manifested when they roll out the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) assistance to the member countries of CARIFORUM.

He said while this initiative is still in the programming stages, it is expected to provide funding to the tune of 350 million Euros, of which 110 million Euros has been earmarked for regional integration and the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

The Ambassador made the remarks while addressing those attending a press conference to speak to the awarding of grants through the Direct Assistance Grant Scheme (DAGS), which is one of the aspects of the 10th EDF.

Turning his attention to the EPA, the EU ambassador said his office was very pleased that the Government of Barbados was seeking to pass the EPA Bill, and while the debate had to be postponed, he is hopeful the matter will be concluded in short order. He made the point as he explained that the EPA is of tremendous benefit to those who want to do business with the member states of the EU, but he lamented that many members of the private sector seem unaware of the opportunities available under the EPA.

“From time to time, we still hear comments from the private sector that not enough benefits are accruing from the EPA and that the EPA has not been resonating enough. We at the EU cannot make the EPA work for you, it is you to find ways to make the EPA beneficial; we can set the frame but you have to do most of the work. This surprising lack of knowledge of the opportunities available through the EPA was confirmed in the recent report of the study which reviewed the implementation and impact of EPA during the first five years after its signature, commonly called the five-year review,” Barfod said.

The Ambassador added, “[But] The mere fact that the Caribbean companies can benefit from this Direct Assistance Grant Scheme is proof that funding is available for companies that need assistance in various aspects of trade… it is also proof that despite the tough economic times that we still live in, that the EU is prepared to assist developing countries in their quest for ways out of the crisis.”

With that in mind, he is calling on private sector stakeholders to capitalise on the opportunities presented in the agreement and make use of the provision which have been made available.

Meanwhile, Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss referring to the EPA Bill on which debate was started in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, said that the debate will resume next week, but contended that the discussion on the EPA must not only take place in Parliament, but also the wider society as well.

“We as a society have an opportunity now to refocus our energy and our mind to the Economic Partnership Agreement – what it really ought to have meant for us in the region; why is it that we have not taken hold of the opportunities presented and what more can be done in the time allocated to do better. One of the things we can start by doing is not complaining, but grabbing hold of the opportunities, preparing ourselves to penetrate the European market,” he said.

Inniss said he is certain there has been no malintent on the part of the EU in terms of the EPA, suggesting that the EU provided the countries of the region with an excellent opportunity to get into their market in a reasonable timeframe. However, he warned time is running out and if the private sector does not grasp the opportunities, they will be like “sitting ducks”. (JRT)

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