The Caribbean and the rest of the Americas are a foreign policy priority for Canada, which has much to gain from, and also contribute to, the region, says Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs) Diane Ablonczy.
During a visit to the region five years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the declaration and 16 months later underlined his commitment by creating the junior cabinet portfolio to forge economic, security and development partnerships in the hemisphere.
Since replacing Peter Kent in January 2011, Ablonczy has visited several Caribbean countries, including Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados last April. She represented Canada at celebrations in Jamaica to mark that country’s 50th independence anniversary on August 6 and was in Guyana earlier last week.
“It’s through these extensive travels and many meetings in the Caribbean region and here at home that I gain a deeper understanding of the special relationships between Canada and Caribbean countries,” Ablonczy said at a meeting she requested with the Council of Caribbean Associations-Canada (CCAC).
“The Caribbean and Latin America is an economically dynamic region that presents significant and sustainable trade and investment opportunities and we are leveraging those in everyone’s best interests.”
Ablonczy, who was in Jamaica in May to celebrate the golden anniversary of bilateral relations between the two countries, said Canada’s total trade with the region has increased by more than 40 per cent in the last six years and Canada has concluded seven trade agreements with countries in the hemisphere, which is more than with the rest of the world combined.
She also said that education is an essential component in building lasting ties across all sectors, adding that Canada strongly believes in education cooperation, particularly in technical training and higher education. Nearly 30,000 young people from the Caribbean and the Americas study in Canada annually.
Three years ago, the federal government established the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP) to support the development of human capital and the next generation of leaders in the Americas while strengthening linkages between post-secondary institutions in Canada and the Caribbean and Latin America.
ELAP scholarships provide students with short-term exchange opportunities for study or research at the college, undergraduate and graduate levels. As part of the program, select graduate-level students are invited to take part in a study tour focused on Canadian democratic governance and civil society or other key priority areas.
The scholarship value ranges from $7,500 for undergrads and college students for four months of study and research to $10,000 for grad students for a period of five or six months of study or research. Priority is given to candidates who have not previously studied in Canada under a Canadian government scholarship.
“Such education initiatives also strengthen the links between post-secondary institutions in Canada and students throughout the Americas,” said Ablonczy. “And with the launch of your own scholarship program, I can tell that the Council of Caribbean Associations-Canada believes just as strongly in the importance of education and cooperation.”
The CCAC will present three scholarships each worth $1,000 to first-year post-secondary students of Caribbean heritage on September 9.
There are also exchange opportunities through a youth mobility program that offers young people between the ages of 18 and 35 from Canada and other countries an opportunity to acquire professional and hands-on experience and also improve their knowledge of languages, culture and society of the other country while holding a temporary work permit.
Canada does not have a bilateral reciprocal youth mobility arrangement with Caribbean countries because of concerns that candidates from that region may seek refugee status after completing the program.
The CCAC was created three years ago to promote and support the political, social, economic, cultural and recreational development of people of Caribbean ancestry living in Canada and also encourage and develop networking opportunities.
“You are a bridge between Canada and its Caribbean neighbours,” said Ablonczy. “The work you are doing is building important networks, forging partnerships and helping increase success and prosperity for all.”
The CCAC executive comprises Frances Delsol (president), Ross Cadasse (vice-president), Randolph Edmead (secretary), Gideon Exeter (treasurer) and Marilyn Daniel-Awong (public relations officer).
By RON FANFAIR