Canada is fully aware of the vulnerabilities and varying levels of development in the Caribbean and is taking those regional challenges into consideration as the two partners negotiate a new free trade agreement, says Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), Diane Ablonczy.
Ablonczy said Canada is committed to negotiating strong labour and environmental provisions because this country believes that responsible environmental and labour practices support increased trade and investment.
Speaking at a two-day CARICOM-Canada trade and development forum in Mississauga, Ablonczy said Canada is excited about the current third round of negotiations with Caribbean Community and Common Market representatives.
“Caribbean businesses have long looked to Canada, not only as an important market in its own right, but as a gateway to the broader North American marketplace,” said the Calgary North Member of Parliament. “And Canadian businesses in a number of sectors have long called for improved access to the Caribbean market.
“So we believe that a Canada-CARICOM trade agreement would greatly increase trade and investment flows between us and benefit our people and businesses on both sides. That’s because when businesses succeed, people succeed.”
Ablonczy said an agreement would go far beyond tariff reduction and elimination.
“It would also address other barriers to trade – those regulations, technical requirements and “red tape” that exporters have to contend with,” she said. “We could make trade flow quicker and smoother and we could provide important stability for business activity.
“An agreement would spark more two-way investment by creating a strong investment framework that would provide a secure, transparent and predictable environment for both sides.
“An agreement would send a clear signal to Canadian and global investors that the Caribbean is a sound place for investment.”
Ablonczy said negotiations are progressing well for an agreement that must take into consideration the vast differences in the two sides and, as such, provide special and deferential treatment for the many small developing island states in the Caribbean.
The current CARIBCAN trading relationship initiated in 1986 is a unilateral extension by Canada of duty-free access to the Caribbean market for most commodities originating from the Caribbean. The agreement, which is limited to goods and does not extend to services, ends when the current five-year World Trade Organization (WTO) waiver for the Caribbean countries’ tariff expires on December 31.
The waiver is necessary because under the WTO’s Most Favoured Nation Principle, all members are entitled to receive the most beneficial tariff treatment offered by a member.
A third round of negotiations started in Ottawa last April and was reconvened by videoconference two weeks ago.
“Trade negotiations are never easy, but I am confident that we can work through the remaining issues and emerge with an ambitious agreement that will be a solid benefit to both sides,” the minister said.
The conference attracted Canadian and Caribbean private sector stakeholders who engaged in dialogue on existing trade and investment opportunities and on those that will become available through the new free trade agreement.
“You are here because you see great potential in closer commercial ties between the Caribbean and Canada,” Ablonczy told the delegates. “You are leaders who can strongly communicate the potential with a trade agreement in place…
“History has shown that the single greatest way to create lasting economic opportunities for people, including our youth, is by lowering trade barriers. In these challenging economic times, that’s exactly what we need to do.
“With your support, Canada and CARICOM can set a clear example and show the world the power of increasing trade and investment opportunities to create jobs, unlock new sources of prosperity for people and build a brighter future for the next generation.”
Trading between Canada and the Caribbean started in the early 18th century with Britain’s northern Atlantic colonies exchanging fish, lumber and other staples for rum, molasses and spices.
CARICOM’s trade with Canada increased by some 35 per cent since 2001, reaching almost $719 million two years ago. Canadian direct investment in the CARICOM region was approximately $56.6 million in 2009.
In the opening address, Barbados’ High Commissioner to Canada, Evelyn Greaves, said the new agreement must be guided by the principle of asymmetry which recognizes and appropriately responds to differences in the levels of development between CARICOM and Canada as well as those among CARICOM countries.
“For us to take advantage of opportunities created by the agreement, measures to support capacity building and enhance competitiveness while minimizing the adverse effects of trade liberalization are necessary,” he said.
In his lunchtime keynote presentation on the opening day, Trinidad & Tobago’s High Commissioner to Canada, Philip Buxo, offered some suggestions for improving returns on bilateral cross border trade. They include responding to the changes in regional and international trading environments through competitiveness and innovation; improving human resources and focused research; forging alliances between the public and private sector; opening up CARICOM and Canadian markets for the movement of professionals and less skilled workers and assisting in educational exchanges.
“The mutual interest between Canada and the English-speaking Caribbean is becoming increasingly apparent and the old habit of Canada and the Commonwealth Caribbean working together has new urgency and importance,” he said. “The challenge is to renew it in forward-thinking ways and the Canada-CARICOM trade and development agreement is a step in the right direction.”
The new agreement will embrace Haiti and Suriname which are not covered by CARIBCAN.