Judging by Jamaica’s Finance & Planning Minister, Peter Phillips’ comments while in Toronto last week, a modern Canada-Caribbean community (CARICOM) trade and development agreement is not imminent.
The seventh round of negotiations concluded in Barbados last June and Gail Mathurin, the director general of CARICOM’s Office of Trade Negotiations (OTN), promised at the time that a deal that will lead to the promotion of trade, investment and the transfer of technology was imminent.
However, the discussions have stalled, prompting Canada’s national defence minister, Jason Kenney, to implore Caribbean diplomats and immigrants to help build broader bridges of prosperity between Canada and the Caribbean.
In response to a question on the status of the agreement after delivering a luncheon address last week at the National Club, Phillips submitted that a new agreement is not on the horizon.
“I believe that what is going to happen is that the old agreement is likely to remain because the new negotiations have not reached a point of conclusion,” he said. “The position seems to be that the Canadian authorities are making the arrangements to get the approvals of the World Trade Organization in this regard.”
Kenney suggested that some Caribbean countries are not interested in free trade and dealing with many CARICOM countries is a major stumbling block.
Phillips seems to agree.
“I think the failure of negotiations to come to a conclusion this far is in part a manifestation of the complexities of negotiating with a group of 14 countries in CARICOM, many of whom have disparate interests,” he said. “But at least there is the opportunity, I believe, for more time to facilitate a reconciliation of these diverse interests, certainly, for the Caribbean to exploit the benefits that are available under the Canada-Caribbean community agreement to a greater degree in the future than has been in the past.”
The new proposed agreement will replace the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) initiated in 1986 as a unilateral extension by Canada of duty free access to the Canadian market for most commodities originating from the Caribbean. The agreement ended on December 31, 2013, after an extended WTO waiver for Caribbean countries’ tariff expired.
The waiver was 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.
While on a visit to Barbados eight years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and CARICOM heads of state announced the launch of the Canada-CARICOM free trade negotiations that has the potential to enhance Canada’s bilateral economic relationships with the Caribbean and strengthen this country’s presence in the Americas.