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13 October, 2008 - Published 07:42 GMT

Countdown to EPA signing

Guyana's president Bharrat Jagdeo has told BBC Caribbean that he hopes the rest of Caricom supports two conditions he has added to the controversial Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.

The trade accord is due to be signed in Barbados this Wednesday, October 15.

The EPA broadly covers trade in goods and services, and includes conditions such as good governance and transparency.

It will be phased in over a number of years, up to 25 years in some instances.

Guyana has been resisting signing the full agreement on the grounds that it's not in its, or the region's, best interest.

President Jagdeo says his compromise must be met if he is to join the rest of Caricom in signing the controversial agreement.

He wants the Revised Caricom Treaty must take precedence when there is a conflict in the implementation of the EPA and regional integration.

The Guyana president is also seeking a mandatory review of the EPA every five years, to determine the social and economic impact on Cariforum member states.

However, he still feels that this week's signing should be postponed.

Mr Jagdeo has also voiced strong displeasure to what said were "fatalistic utterances" from Caricom regarding whether or not they can delay the EPA.

He feels the rest of the region was surrendering to the wishes of the EU.

Listen to President Jagdeo's interview with Marie-Claire Williams.

President Jagdeo has spoken about possible penalties from the EU if he doesn't sign the full EPA, indicating that should he sign, it would be under duress.

Guyana had said previously that it would only sign the 'goods' element of the agreement which covers trade in both goods and services.

Georgetown has been in discussions with the European Commission on the compromise offer put forward by President Jagdeo.

One of the top European Commission officials looking into Guyana's proposals is trade policy advisor Dougie Brew.

Listen to interview with Dougie Brew

St Lucia's prime minister Stephenson King had previously indicated to BBC Caribbean that Guyana had submitted its concerns and a suggested review to its fellow Caricom members.

"It is (now) anticipated that Guyana will sign," King said.

That being the case, only Haiti will not sign next week.

European flexibility

Dominica's prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit said later in the week that he was glad that Guyana would be signing but that he sympathised with Guyana's position.

"He had a point, his point is very strong, his point is justified and I respect him for that," Skerrit said.

The Dominican leader added that "things wuill never be perfect" in negotiations "and we must always remember that the other side might be feeling the same way".

Skerrit called for Europe to "be more flexible..in the way it does business with the rest of the world".

Earlier delays

In August and September, there had been a series of calls for the region to delay finalising its signing of the agreement pending the outcome of a meeting between a delegation from the ACP and the European Union.

Caricom leaders met in Barbados in September to discuss the EPA, which all Cariforum initialled at the end of 2007.

The complex EPA, broadly covering free trade in goods and services between the EU and the ACP countries, has been bogged down in controversy in the Caribbean.

Guyana has objected to some of its elements, principally trade in services, with the argument that it makes it uncompetitive against European countries and companies.

Split with Africa

Next week's signing could also signal the first major split within the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of nations.

The group, mainly former European colonies, had been approached as separate blocs by Europe over the Epa.

At a heads of ACP states meeting held in the Ghanian capital, Accra, members agreed to conduct negotations with the European Union (EU) over the Epa.

There was not a large Caribbean representation at the Ghana meeting and Caricom is due to sign the deal next week despite this week's ACP deliberations.

AllAfrica.com reported that "At the Summit of ACP countries most states, however, expressed concern about the process and content of the Epas."

"The summit also expressed concern over what they described as "undue pressure" being put on some ACP countries to sign and ratify interim or full Epas before legitimate concerns have been adequately addressed."

"This would create conditions for all ACP countries to become part of agreements that would genuinely contribute to growth, development and advancement of regional integration," said AllAfrica.com.

The GSP alternative

However, sources have told BBC Caribbean that much of this "will-they,won't-they" debate in the Caribbean region had been mainly academic.

Any country not signing the EPA would find their exports revert to what's known as the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).

Under this, the European Commission can cause its existing and largely duty free tariff regime on the exports of a country not signing up to revert to the (GSP).

The GSP tariffs would impact on a country's key exports - from sugar and bananas to low priced bulk rum.

The Epa might have been a source of contention between Caricom countries but, from the point of view of Brussels, it was a step-up and therefore a better offer than the GSP.

The European Commission is expected to send a team to Barbados for next week's signing.

Former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had brokered the deal.

However, after taking up a new cabinet post in the British government last week, it is not yet clear whether Mandelson or his successor, Baronness Ashton, will represent the European Commission.