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Caribbean, U.S. Spar Over Tariffs

June 25, 2002

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) _ In a dispute over agricultural tariffs, the 14-nation Caribbean Community defended itself Tuesday against U.S. accusations that the region was lazy.

The Caribbean and the United States have been negotiating agricultural trade tariffs for the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, with the Caribbean wanting tariffs to be the same as those used by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization.

The United States has been pushing Caribbean and Latin American countries to agree on lower rates. The Caribbean Community, also called Caricom, has said lower tariffs could result in heavily subsidized U.S. products flooding the region’s markets and putting its farmers out of business.

The U.S. State Department wrote several letters this month to Caribbean governments accusing regional representatives of generating ill will during negotiating sessions in Panama in May.

``What Caricom has been doing is looking after its interest,″ Assistant Secretary General Colin Grandison told reporters Tuesday in Georgetown, where Caricom is based.

``We need a bit more time to put order in our own houses,″ he said. ``As small states with limited resources, we can’t move as quickly to do things as, for example, the U.S., Canada and Mexico.″

The Free Trade Area of the Americas, scheduled to be in place by 2005, would include 34 countries from the Arctic to Argentina, with 800 million consumers in nations with a combined gross domestic product exceeding dlrs 10 trillion, making it the largest trade bloc on earth.

Grandison said the region was also upset by U.S. pressure to reach an agreement by October _ a deadline that has been pushed back to the end of the year upon urgings from regional governments.

The State Department’s letter also accused chief Caribbean negotiator Richard Bernal of stalling progress at the Panama talks, claiming his delegation was unwilling to compromise.

Grandison said United States should understand that, with fewer resources, its smaller neighbors were unable to move as fast in signing agreements not considered to be in its best interest.

The issue is high on the agenda of the annual Caribbean leaders summit, scheduled to begin next week in Guyana.

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