The banana companies in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States maybe forced out of business following the European Union’s decision to negotiate a Free Trade agreement (FTA) with Central American countries in what the ACP Group describes as on “too generous” terms.
The ACP Group expressed shock that only a week after the EU signed the first Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with an ACP region (CARIFORUM), which supposes to secure, and expand preferential access for ACP bananas into the EU market, the EU has gone ahead to negotiate an FTA with the Central Americans in terms which pose serious threat to ACP preferences.
The EU’s market access offer for bananas in the Framework of the FTA under negotiation might include an initial reference import tariff for bananas, which will be lower than the current applied tariff. Also, there will be a rapid decrease over a relatively short period to a final import tariff landing zone, which is lower than the figure that was indicated by ACP countries as the minimum tariff for the necessary preference that would enable them to continue their export of bananas to the EU.
The ACP understands that the EU plans to lower the current levy on competing bananas from certain Central America States of 176 euros per tonne to 95 euros over ten years.
The Chairman of the ACP Banana Working Group, Ambassador Gerhard Hiwat of Suriname, said that the new offer to Central America would mean the end of the banana industry in all the banana producing countries of the ACP Group.
The chairman believes that EU’s action also contradicts the objectives of the EPAs it signed with the Caribbean and interim agreement initialed with some African Banana exporting countries, and seriously questions the ACP-EU partnership.
The Ambassador of the Dominican Republic, His Excellency Dr Fredrico Alberto Cuello Camilo, re-iterated that the EU is negotiating with Central America on “too generous” terms.
He said that if the negotiation between the two parties is successful it would put ACP exporters out of business, adding that it would also result in the dislocation of economies and loss of jobs in the ACP countries concerned and might even impact on neighboring countries.
The Ambassador stated that in his country alone 15,000 families depend on bananas for employment, and they have also employed a lot of Haitians.Dr Cuello Camilo said that most of the economies that rely on bananas would collapse if the EU pushes ahead with the planned agreement with Central America.
The Ambassador of Jamaica, Her Excellency Mrs. Marcia Gilbert-Roberts, said the reduction of tariff from 176 Euros to 95 Euros would make it impossible for her farmers to compete on the European market.
Delegates from African banana exporting nations like Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon did also express the same concerns. The Charge d’Affairs of the Eastern Caribbean States, Dr Arnold Thomas, said that banana has been a source of livelihood of the states he represents and now it has been threatened.
The ACP appeals to the EU to honour the partnership and cautions that it’s the EU’s actions towards the Central Americans, would not send a right signal to the regions that have yet to sign off to an EPA.