Opening remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael, Chairman of the Latin American Council of SELA, at the Regional Meeting: "Economic Relations between Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union and the Sixth Bi-regional Summit in Madrid." -- SELA Headquarters, Caracas, February 25, 2010
His Excellency Ambassador Antonio Cardoso Mota, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Venezuela, Ambassadors, Distinguished Guests, Members of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen...
First of all, I wish to express my profound sympathy and solidarity to the Government and people of Haiti over the tremendous loss of life and property and the severe deprivation following the devastating earthquake last month.
With Haiti on our minds, we meet over the next two days here at SELA to preview the upcoming sixth summit of the European Union (EU) and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries to be held in May in Madrid. Various regional and sub-regional groups, specialists and representatives of Latin American and European countries will participate in the discussions of this forum today and tomorrow and will examine issues affecting the advance of economic and political relations between the two regional groupings. I am absolutely sure that the problems affecting Haiti will feature prominently in the upcoming summit.
This meeting also presents an opportunity to reflect on the action plans of the last summit in Lima, and to examine how much has been achieved since then. It will also enable Latin American and Caribbean nations to identify common areas of concern which can assist in projecting common regional positions at the Madrid summit. However, we have to be realistic in agreeing that each country in Latin America and the Caribbean has its own self-interests and it may not be possible to develop common positions on some strategic issues.
The last summit in Lima in May 2008 was of particular importance since it resulted in defining two major priorities of the bi-regional strategic partnership. These priorities were (1) poverty alleviation and the problems of inequality and inclusion, and (2) sustainable development and issues affecting the environment, climate change and energy.
That summit also saw two positive results. These were (1) the decision to create working groups in sectoral subjects, and (2) the adoption of action-oriented agendas on the two main priority areas.
Without a doubt, the EU-LAC summit, which sees the participation of more than 60 countries, has a powerful international impact. The debate at the highest level identifies new development vistas for the participation of both regional groupings, and allows for the adoption of fresh initiatives to deal with the challenges of mutual economic assistance, trade and investment
With regard to economic assistance, foreign direct investment from the European Union to Latin America and the Caribbean has proven to be of growing significance in the last two decades. On the other hand, bilateral trade between the two regions has suffered as a result of the international economic crisis.
One of the results of the Lima summit was the decision to give renewed impetus to the process for building a strategic association between the two regions, by actively moving ahead with the negotiations of partnership agreements between the EU and the various sub-regional groups in LAC.
Even before the Lima summit, negotiations had started on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and the CARIFORUM countries comprising Caricom and the Dominican Republic. Negotiations were concluded in 2008 and the agreement was signed last year. This Agreement provides for substantial liberalisation of market access for both goods and services and replaces the non-reciprocal preferential trade arrangement which existed previously under the Lome and Cotonou conventions negotiated with the African-Caribbean-Pacific nations.
The Government of Guyana has expressed some reservations, since it felt the Agreement would create some vulnerabilities for its major sugar industry and the welfare of the sugar workers of the country -- thus implying that the agreement is not totally fair. The Guyana Government felt then -- and still feels that the terms and conditions of trade with the EU must be fair and just, and expressed those views very clearly before and after it signed on to the EPA.
In reality, Guyana is worse off now than before with the EPA.
The Government is concerned over the EU's slow pace of delivery of accompanying measures, and its strict conditionalities are restricting the disbursement of timely support to the sugar producing countries of the Caribbean whose economies are facing severe consequences arising from the 36% price cuts by the EU on sugar. Significantly, the full price cut, which took effect this year, will result in an annual loss to Guyana of US$34.1 million.
Actually, the sugar producing countries of the Caribbean, which include Guyana, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, have expressed their disappointment with the slow pace of disbursements of funds from the EU, which are intended to help in buffering the economies of sugar producing countries from the fall-out associated with the price cuts.
The sugar producing countries want a trading regime with fair and stable prices and access to a secure and a predictable long term market in the EU, and this will surely be expressed at the Madrid summit.
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