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Concerns raised about lack of awareness on EPA

Awareness needs to be raised about the Economic Partnership Agreement(EPA)negotiated between the European Union(EU)and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, and its impact on the local private sector, with several members of the financial industry raising concerns about a lack of information on the agreement.

Investment specialist for the CARICOM Implementation Unit Allyson Francis told Guardian Business yesterday that the private sector needs to increase its knowledge about the EPA given the important role of that sector.

“In terms of challenges my major concern is awareness from the private sector about what the EPA involves,”Francis said.”It’s a challenge for the region in terms of changing our mindset and being more proactive, and understanding the global environment we’re living in now and to position ourselves, we can’t necessarily sit back and wait on government to do things for us.

“I hope that at the end of the day a better understanding of the agreement will help the Bahamas business sector to be able to do that.”

Discussions on the EPA were conducted yesterday at a technical workshop hosted by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the CARICOM EPA Implementation Unit and The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Resort. Various speakers presented an overview of the EPA, and discussed opportunities and challenges facing The Bahamas and the region as a result of the agreement.

The EPA creates a free trade area between the European Union(EU)and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States(ACP). It’s a response to criticism that the non-reciprocal and discriminating preferential trade agreements offered by the EU don’t comply with rules of the World Trade Organization(WTO).

The Bahamas signed the EPA agreement as a part of the CARIFORUM sub-group within the ACP on October 15, 2008, however Article 63 of that agreement allowed The Bahamas and Haiti to have their commitments on services and investment incorporated into the EPA following a decision of the CARIFORUM-EC Trade and Development Committee. Negotiations related to services were completed on January 25, 2010.

Francis added that upcoming meetings with the government will give her a better feel for what the country’s plans are in terms of the EPA.

Members of the local business community were also present during the seminar, including CEO of the Bahamas Financial Services Board(BFSB)Wendy Warren. She expressed her concerns about the amount of information available to the country and the need for communication to be improved.

“To even take advantage of the EPA you have to first of all understand what the offers actually provide for and what the conditions are, and if it’s possible to meet those conditions,”Warren said.”I would[like]to see us analyze those offers, particularly financial services in far greater detail to understand what market access have we actually achieved in Europe.”

She added that a proactive approach has to be taken in terms of those relationships between the European countries and The Bahamas, which will enable the EPA to be more effective.

Francis believes that the EPA can be enormously benefical to the country and the rest of the region.

“The EPA will have some great potential for[the Caribbean]if we could clearly understand where we are and where we want to go, and utilize the agreement the best we can,”she said.

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