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We are fighting back!

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During the last week in September, the principal negotiators of the European Union (EU) and CARIFORUM will meet in St. Lucia to begin the crucial third phase of negotiations of the proposal Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between both regions.

Those negotiations come right on the heels of crippling blows to the Caribbean banana and sugar industries and amidst mounting problems for the rice industry. {{more}}These are all critical sectors of the Caribbean economy and a collapse in any one or all of these could have disastrous implications for the Caribbean and the rural sector in particular. Already, the various decisions and actions of both the WTO and the EU are impacting negatively on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of farmers, workers and their families and severely constraining the economic development of the entire region.

Even though, according to the Cotonou Agreement, signed in June 2000 between the EU and the ACP states, there is a commitment to ensuring that the ACP states are “no worse off” as a result and to the inclusion of a development aspect to any trade agreement signed as a consequence, subsequent policies and actions give reason for serious concern. There is every indication, for instance, that the European Union is far more willing to comply with the dictates of the WTO than to live up to its Cotonou commitments. And the WTO has clearly demonstrated that the developmental needs of small and vulnerable states are not one of its priorities.

For all these reasons, WINFA, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) which is the umbrella organization of Caribbean NGO’s, and the Hemisphere Social Alliance, the hemisphere counterpart of the CPDC, are jointly organizing a week of activities to co-incide with the EU-CARIFORUM EPA negotiations. This will involve seminars, and mini-consultations with different interest groups both to share information on the EPA and WTO process as well as to solicit the views of Caribbean civil society so that they can be put to the relevant negotiations and governments.

The highlight of the week will be a massive PEOPLE’S RALLY aimed at letting the governments and negotiators know the feelings of our people in furtherance of securing their livelihoods. Naturally, the St. Lucian people, farmers and workers in particular, will constitute the bulk of the mobilized people, but we hope to have farmers and workers from the banana, sugar and rice industries especially, from all the affected countries in the Caribbean ranging from Guyana to Jamaica.

In particular, the campaign will focus on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the European Union (EU) and CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic).

From September 26th -30th 2005, EU officials will be meeting in St. Lucia along with regional negotiators to launch the 3rd phase of the negotiating process. We believe that this is a good space to remind them that the process is not just about deal making, but about people, their jobs and their right to earn a decent living.

Already, the EU restructuring process under the aegis of WTO compatibility has devastated both the sugar and banana industries, destroying thousands of livelihoods and potentially disrupting the social and economic fabric of Caribbean societies.

In Guyana alone, the Sugar industry accounts for 20% of GDP, 30% of export earnings and provides a livelihood for at least 125,000 persons. The EU price cuts for sugar will cost the region some €100 million annually. Already, in St Kitts the government has taken a decisive decision to move out of sugar cane production, putting hundreds of workers and their families in jeopardy.

In the Windward Islands it is estimated that over 100,000 persons live in households whose income is derived wholly or significantly from banana farming. These banana household represents between 24 and 40% of all households in various countries. It was estimated that banana producing countries would lose over €25 million annually from the first WTO banana ruling. This new blow has the potential to dismantle the industry altogether.

Our key question is, What more will it cost us in the EPA Negotiations?

For this campaign we want our small farmers and small producers to realize that they are not alone, that we understand their plight and recognize that the process will impact on each and every one of us.

We want to ensure that the negotiators from both the EU and CARIFORUM remember that it is not about deal making but about the livelihoods of thousands of people

We want our regional leaders to be empowered by our support to stand up to any bullying from the EU.

We want to ensure that Commissioner Mandelson and the EU officials remember the spirit of the Cotonou agreement which prioritizes development and poverty reduction as stated in Article 19 and article 34(1) of the Agreement

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

• Be part of our online petition campaign to be launched on the 1st September, we want to collect 10,000 signatures

• Come to St. Lucia and support Caribbean farmers as we rally to safeguard our livelihoods

• Send out letters and press releases to support our cause.

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