By RON FANFAIR
New initiatives aimed at strengthening Canada’s relationships with the Caribbean featured prominently in discussions between Minister of State for Foreign Affairs with responsibility for the Americas, Peter Kent, and top government officials in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Suriname during a just concluded one-week visit.
Following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trip to the Caribbean in July 2007, several programs were unveiled to build new partnerships and promote regional integration through mutually supportive policies. These include the launch of negotiations leading to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Canada and CARICOM.
A FTA with CARICOM has the potential to create opportunities for Canadian exporters in the industrial goods, agriculture, fish and agri-food sectors. It could also generate economic benefits for both Canada and CARICOM by providing preferential access for goods and services to each other’s markets.
Canada has already indicated that it would not seek a further renewal of the World Trade Organization (WTO) waiver for CARIBCAN, an economic and trade development assistance program for Commonwealth Caribbean countries set up after the 1985 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the Bahamas.
“The current WTO waiver expires in 2011 and we want to get a new and improved free trade agreement in place as soon as possible to ensure that all of the mutual benefits and the expanded mutual benefits under the wider free trade agreement can be enacted as soon as possible,” Kent told Share from Ottawa.
“Trinidad & Tobago, which is on the verge of becoming a developed country, is fully engaged and enthusiastic about the process. Some of the smaller governments have concerns about capacity and some of them were not happy with the way the European agreement came together. But, in our talks with Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo, he agreed to maintain the benefits of the existing trade agreement in a new agreement even though he’s somewhat skeptical about the European agreement.”
Guyana was one of the last CARICOM counties to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union that’s devised to strengthen ties between the two regions and promote regional integration in the Caribbean.
Kent said he and Jagdeo also discussed the issue of the deportation of Guyanese with criminal records. Earlier this year, Canada’s High Commissioner to Guyana, Charles Court, said nearly 800 Guyanese in Canada were awaiting deportation.
“President Jagdeo and the Foreign Affairs Minister (Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett) agreed that in recent years more engaged dialogue between Canada and the individual countries of CARICOM has minimized some of those concerns,” he said. “Canada is supporting an NGO in Georgetown which receives and redirects into society, in a positive way, deportees. In fact, the actual number of deportees with a criminal record from Canada to Guyana is less than five per cent.”
The Canadian High Commission in Guyana, through the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives, helped to set up the non-governmental organization to assist deportees in the re-integration process.
A former deputy editor of Global TV News before entering politics, Kent expressed satisfaction with Trinidad & Tobago’s plans to host next month’s fifth Summit of the Americas that will bring together 34 heads of state and government from the region.
“The folks in Trinidad are on top of their preparations,” said Kent who met with summit coordinator, Luis Alberto Rodriguez and T & T Prime Minister Patrick Manning. “Canada has been delighted to assist in both the logistics and technical preparations. It’s a very big event and there is great enthusiasm and anticipation.
“The airport needs some improvement to handle all of the aircraft that will bring in heads of state and delegates. Canada is pleased with the way things are coming together and we are pleased to offer our assistance where we can base on our past hosting of similar events.”
Canada hosted the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001.