Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Caricom on Bananas

CARIBBEAN: CARICOM critical of double standards by Latin American countries

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Edwin Carrington has criticised Latin American countries for continuing to push Caribbean banana producers out of the European market even while indicating a willingness to enter into a closer relationship with the region.

Carrington was responding to the latest agreement reached between Europe and Latin America to end their long running trade dispute that will have serious consequences for the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The ACP group has already accused Baroness Cathy Ashton, the EU’s outgoing trade commissioner, of abandoning Europe’s commitment to tackling poverty as a result of the trade deal that ends a 16-year “banana war”.

Carrington told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) he did not believe that the compensation package being outlined as a result of the new agreement “would be anywhere near the loss that we would be suffering as a result of this new agreement”.

The new accord is expected to be signed this week and slashes import taxes on bananas from Latin America, from Euro 176 Euros (US$262) a tonne to Euro 114 (US$170) over the next seven years,
Carrington said the move by Latin America “raises for me a peculiar question.

“We are in the process of speaking about closer cooperation between Latin America and the Caribbean. We met in Jamaica on the sixth of November…and many of the countries that are party to that discussion… are the same parties whose struggles are pushing as out of the European market, our very limited access to that market in terms of quantity.”

The CARICOM top official said these Latin American countries already enjoy “a massive benefits of the market…and yet we are being pushed out while we on the other side are speaking about cooperation and fraternal relations.

“It does really raise some serious questions in my mind as to how we are going to reconcile those two positions. We in Jamaica on the sixth of November agreed to a meeting in Mexico in February at the level of heads to bring about coordination and harmonization between the Rio Group of Countries and CARICOM.

“We are to be moving into a united way and all I have to say we can only unite can all accommodate each other and provide scope for one another to survive. That to me is a fundamental issue has to be put frankly on the table,” Carrington said.

Carrington recalled that St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves had also raised the issue during a summit in Brazil last year and “a lot of the discussions on fraternal etc were brought to a halt immediately because he said you could not be talking to me in this language and then doing this in terms of policy”.

“I have no doubt that it would be done again,” he said, adding that he was hopeful that the Latin Americans would understand the position of the Caribbean.

“I would hate to believe that the fact that you did something for so many years that you cannot change,” he added.

Last week, ACP agriculture ministers met in an emergency meeting after details of the Geneva Agreement on Trade in Bananas emerged, and issued a strongly-worded statement, warning that “the coming days could spell the end of the era when Europe considered the fight against poverty a priority”.

They said the banana deal is evidence that, in adopting a “global Europe” strategy in the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is abandoning its commitment to countries with which it has had long historical ties.

The ACP ministers said Europe is the only market for most of their fruit growers, who are dwarfed by the larger Latin American producers, such as Ecuador.

As part of the agreement, Europe has offered the ACP Euro 190 million (US$283.6 million) in so-called “banana accompanying measures” to help growers adapt to harsher market conditions and compensate those forced out of business by the liberalisation.

But the ACP ministers insisted that Euro 250 million Euros (US$373.2 million) was the minimum necessary and have also called for the cuts in banana tariffs to be linked to progress in the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations, which they hope could open up more market opportunities for ACP farmers.