The recently-penned Samoa Agreement, which will govern trade and aid arrangements between Europe and its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific (ACP) for the next 20 years, has divided the Caribbean with some countries either signing on to it or showing willingness to sign on, while others have not.
The agreement has raised concerns, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, that it will be used by the European Union (EU) to impose values and ideologies that are contrary to Caribbean culture and traditions.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain, Jason Gordon, has criticized it saying that while it is “written as a trade agreement, anyone who signs the agreement will have abortion legislation in their countries. They will have to impose abortion legislation, transgender, LBGTQ, comprehensive sex education, and a whole range of values because of the signing of that document.”
St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados have already signed, while Dominica and Jamaica have said they will be doing so. Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, The Bahamas and Grenada have not signed. Grenada has made it clear that it is no rush to subscribe to the agreement.
“Grenada for sure we are not willing to surrender our sovereignty to any international organisation and if there is any part and proposed agreement inconsistent with our constitution and with our values, we will think very long and hard before entering into any such agreement,” that country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Export Development, Joseph Andall, said in a statement on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell believes that whether or not international accords exist, morality and values are shaped by the culture of every given country or region and the morality of countries should not be imposed on others.
“As a result, we must be cautious not to blur the line between private morality and law,’ he stated. ‘And I firmly believe that, from our perspective, the morality of other countries should not be forced on the morals of countries, nor should it be linked to help.”
He pointed out that this would imply that countries are attempting to impose their own moral or public policy on countries by attaching it to assistance or aid.
“That is not something we support philosophically,” he stated. “Our stance is that if countries choose to engage in grant financing, aid funding, or loans with us, those are business matters that should be governed by commercial conditions. If you attempt to impose what I would call morality issues into them, then I think certainly from our perspective…it is not likely that this government would simply sign because we need to get some grant funding or aid funding.”
The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, has a different opinion on the accord, saying it is very comprehensive and won’t require the changing of laws in his country, or any country for that matter.
“The European Union has its agenda with several things as we know,” Gonsalves told a news conference this week. “This agreement is a very comprehensive agreement, and it is intended in its salient aspects, which touch and concern us, to advance inclusiveness but inclusiveness within the parameters of issues of human rights, general equality, special considerations for women and girls and the young people and the elderly and so on. I assure everybody that St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that we have our own determinations on particular matters, and any alteration in our existing law has to be done by our Parliament, and there is no intention for the Parliament to alter any of our positions as they are laid out in our laws in relation to the controversial questions touching on and concerning same-sex marriages and the like.”
He called on the citizens of his country to calm down.
“I just want everybody to calm down and not take some position out of Trinidad, out of the United States, or somewhere else in a general condemnation of an agreement,” Gonsalves stated. “Unless somebody can point to me these specific provisions, they’re making the claim that they were somehow subversive of what we know traditionally as Christian morality.”
Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, described the agreement as a good document overall, although it could be more refined.
“It is a framework document that is not necessarily imposing any particular ideals or views on us in the African and Caribbean Pacific region,” he stated at a press conference on Wednesday. He said many of the concerns being raised are not even in the document.
“And people are looking at those sections and articles and indicating that there may be an opportunity for some of the things that we have concerns with may find themselves being implemented in our countries,” he remarked.
Meanwhile, Jamaica, which had previously said it needed more time for consultation on the agreement, has now indicated it is ready to sign up but did not give a specific date.
“I can’t give you a date,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Jonson Smith, told the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday. “I have a meeting with my PS (permanent secretary) today (Tuesday) to set the schedule for the consultations to take place as promised.”
She said the agreement does not require Jamaica to change any of its current laws.
“There is no need to fear,” she said. “The Jamaica Labour Party Government is a government that can be trusted to ensure that any agreement that we enter into with a third party state, third party organisation, will never infringe upon our laws. We are a listening government, we are a caring government and we do ensure that this important developmental agreement, it is undertaken within a spirit of understanding.”
Countries that have not signed the agreement have until the end of this year to do so or risk losing access to loans from the European Investment Bank, which relies on the agreement for its legal operating mandate outside the EU.