Enhanced CARICOM-US trade must recognize differences in development levels

Any new and enhanced trading relationship between CARICOM and the US should take into account the differences in the level of development between the two parties and among CARICOM countries themselves, a regional official has told a hearing of the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) on the Caribbean.

ship in port

Free trade or preferential access for the Caribbean?

Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration at the CARICOM Secretariat, Irwin LaRocque told the panel that the revitalised CARICOM-United States Trade and Investment Council (TIC) was expected to play an important part in the furthering of the enhanced trade and economic relationship.

In that regard following his appearance at the hearing, January 29, LaRocque met with the Deputy US Trade Representative Everett Eissenstat, to discuss the convening of a meeting of the TIC later this year.

LaRocque reaffirmed the June 2007 request by CARICOM Heads of Government to the President of the United States of America, to extend the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) to all Member States of the Community and to make permanent the preferences available under the Act.

The public hearing at the Commission’s building in Washington D.C, USA was entitled Caribbean Region: Review of Economic Growth and Development and was a direct result of the Conference on the Caribbean which was held in Washington last June.

The Commission was asked to conduct this hearing by the United States House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee which is led by the Congressman Charles Rangel. Five Member States of CARICOM, Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, St Kitts/Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago also participated in the hearing. Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States, His Excellency Jose Miguel Insulza as well as representatives of the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) and the United States private sector also made presentations.

Ambassador LaRocque said on Wednesday that the session had been a very good one from the Caribbean perspective and very informative for the USITC panel. “Following the presentation, there was an interactive session which lasted around two hours,” he said, “during which the panel sought clarification and further information on the integration process in the Region.” The Secretariat will also present a written submission to the USITC which has requested that all written submissions be lodged at its offices by 5 February 2008.

Assistant Secretary-General LaRocque in his oral submission outlined five main areas which could be considered as elements for a more mature CARICOM/US trade and economic relationship.

First, he said, CARICOM/US trade relations should be enhanced and placed on a permanent and more predictable footing and one way of achieving this would be for the US to lock-in the CBTPA preferences which expire in September this year into permanent legislation under CBERA and include all CARICOM Member States as beneficiaries. Currently, only seven Member States are beneficiaries under the Act which entered into force in 2000 and allowed duty free entry to designated products from those Member States of the Community.

The Assistant Secretary-General said that in addition, the US should broaden the categories of CARICOM products eligible for preferential access to its markets. He argued that the CARICOM exporters could also benefit from more flexible Rules of Origin for exports to the United States with the preservation and strengthening of the “cumulation principle”. This would enable enterprises to combine inputs from eligible countries in the Region in the production of goods and services.

Secondly, Ambassador LaRocque pointed out that the services sector was the fastest growing in the Region, contributing between 60 to 90 per cent of the economic output and needed to be explicitly provided for in any future CARICOM-US trade relations.

Thirdly, the Assistant Secretary-General stated that there was a role for the US as one of the Region’s long standing partners as CARICOM sought to promote the transformation of its economies through their access to the resources and technical assistance to be provided by the CARICOM Development Fund.

Fourthly he posited that capacity-building assistance to allow regional industries to capitalise on export opportunities was another area in which the US could be supportive of CARICOM. This should include training and technical assistance to address sanitary and phytosanitary requirements and other technical regulations and standards applied by the US.

The USITC, an independent, non-partisan, fact-finding federal agency, will provide an in-depth description of the current level of economic development in the Caribbean basin at the regional level and the country level. The country level overview will include country profiles of the 18 CBERA countries that are not part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement including the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR). The USITC will also provide an overview of the economic literature on potential Caribbean development and will summarize the literature assessing the direction of future Caribbean development.

The USITC will submit its report to the Committee by May 7, 2008.

     

Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

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