OECS member states urged to facilitate movement of goods across borders

Alicia Stephens

CASTRIES, St Lucia — The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Secretariat’s Trade Policy Unit (OECSTPU) has urged member states to press on with efforts to help reduce the time and cost taken to move goods across borders.

That process, known as trade facilitation, is an essential component of the OECS Economic Union, which was ratified by member governments of the OECS on January 21, 2011.

Point person on trade facilitation at the OECS Secretariat, Alicia Stephen, said the OECSTPU continues to be concerned about the action that member states are taking to accomplish this.

“It’s really because of the importance of trade facilitation to the operation of the OECS Economic Union and ultimately to the development of a competitive business environment in the OECS. Remember, trade facilitation is really aimed at simplifying processes reducing time and cost of transactions. Any measures that lengthen the time it takes to move goods across borders increase the coast of doing business and would erode our competitiveness,” she said.

The OECSTPU has met with trade facilitation focal points and agreed that national trade facilitation groups would discuss reports commissioned by the Unit such as “The Trade Facilitation Cluster Study” and “Trade Facilitation Architecture Study” in order to implement the recommendations.

The OECSTPU has also received information from the International Finance Corporation and Inter American Development Bank on activities undertaken and planned to help countries reduce the cost of trade transactions.

Stephen says economies will benefit tremendously from trade facilitation.

“We all will benefit. The private sector will benefit because they would be able to move goods more quickly and efficiently thereby reducing the cost of doing business; reducing transaction costs. Consumers are expected to benefit from improved service, improved quality of goods, cheaper goods and services. Overall there will be more efficient systems that will help to improve revenue collection so there are benefits for government as well. So it will improve revenue collection and reduce the incidents associated with under-invoicing and fraud and remove bottlenecks to the movements of goods. Overall increased trade is anticipated and the improved business environment will encourage both domestic and foreign investment,” she explained.

Meanwhile the OECS Secretariat has praised the input of the OECS private sector in informing policy decisions on trade matters across the region, adding that there is need for continuous dialogue with the OECS private sector on matters pertaining to trade as the region continues to deepen economic integration.

Virginia Paul, who heads the OECS Secretariat’s Trade Policy Unit, said such engagement by the OECS private sector was well received at the recently held 15th meeting of the OECS Trade Negotiations Group, in Basseterre.

Paul said this will help to maintain close interaction in the decision making, implementation and monitoring of trade policy issues such as trade facilitation.

The Trade Policy Unit convened the fifteenth meeting of the Trade Negotiations Group (TNG) on 1-2 February in St Kitts-Nevis. The TNG comprises trade officials, private sector representatives and the Secretariat. Its mandate is to formulate positions on subjects being negotiated with countries and groups of countries.

This meeting discussed negotiations with Canada and the World Trade Organisation. It also considered implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement, Economic Union Treaty and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.

The meeting agreed that member states:
• will provide the Geneva Mission with information that it required to take positions on their behalf in the WTO and to participate in meetings in Geneva where necessary;
• will continue work on the listing of items that would be subject to tariff reduction and submit a copy of this document to the OECS and CARICOM Secretariats. They will also continue national consultations on subjects being discussed in the negotiations such as services and trade related issues;
• will prepare national EPA implementation work plans and the Hub and Spokes Project would provide support to implement the plans upon request;
• will convene consultations on trade facilitation and the free circulation of goods;

The Secretariat will revise the work plan for implementing the trade policy regime in the Economic Union to include specific activities.

As part of the Secretariat’s support to the manufacturing sector to maintain its presence in the CARICOM Single Market, the TNG also proposed changes to the scope of work for a study to review the regime that provides support to infant industries in Less Developed Countries in CARICOM such as the OECS.

Resources to convene this meeting of the TNG were provided by the Inter American Development Bank.

The OECSTPU will be working further with member states on ongoing negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

Paul said the director general of the World Trade Organisation is trying to complete the ongoing Doha round of negotiations by the end of 2011 to culminate in a meeting of trade ministers in December. Therefore, the OECS Secretariat will continue to work with member states to prepare positions to be taken during negotiations in Geneva during the course of the year as they work towards an agreement on textual proposals and tariff reductions in order to conclude the negotiations.

The OECSTPU warned that negotiating sessions can be convened at short notice; hence the importance for OECS member states to prepare to take positions in critical areas such as trade in goods, trade in services and intellectual property.

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