The executive of the Canada-CARICOM Parliamentary Friendship Group (CCPFG) has been encouraging negotiators meeting in Ottawa to reach a practical agreement to protect the longstanding trade arrangement between Canada and the Commonwealth Caribbean nations.
CCPFG executive members Senators Don Meredith and Terry Mercer and Members of Parliament Tyrone Benskin and Joe Daniel have encouraged the parties to work to come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
“Indeed, there is much at stake for the affected region,” said Meredith, co-chair of the CCPFG. “As Canadian parliamentarians, who serve on the Canada-CARICOM Parliamentary Friendship Group, we advocate a pragmatic approach to close the negotiation gaps as there is much at stake for consumers and stakeholders. We would like to see an outcome that yields a positive impact on the region as a whole.”
CARICOM represents over 15 million residents in the Caribbean. A reciprocal free trade agreement would supersede the non-reciprocal CARIBCAN agreement which has existed since 1986. After six rounds of deliberate negotiations, the 28 years of non-reciprocal trade benefitting the CARICOM nations is now threatened. In December 2013, after the expiration of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Most Favoured Nation waiver for CARIBCAN, Canada secured a new waiver to extend negotiations towards a new agreement that would drive more robust economic development while eliminating the aid dependency relationship which has been a contentious matter in the debates.
“The Government of Canada wants to move beyond the inclusion of Aid in this Free Trade Agreement,” said Daniel. “We need an amicable outcome that also benefits both Canadian investors and businesses. That may include signing that which they may have already agreed upon, and working on the other issues going forward.”
“As a leading nation, we should continue to encourage developing economies through mutually beneficial bilateral trade initiatives,” added CCPFG co-chair Benskin. “That includes a framework that concurrently strengthens the progress of Caribbean countries along the path of economic development.”
There is little time remaining during which Canada and CARICOM must find ways to bridge a number of negotiation gaps. This ranges from issues of service and investments, market access for goods, and side agreements on labour and environment.
“It is in the interest of all parties to get a good deal done,” said Senator Mercer. “That is why we encourage all sides to just pull together and get it done.”
The final deadline to complete negotiations is June 2014. Should these negotiations fail, the CARICOM countries may face the prospect of having to compete in the Canadian market along very different terms.