EDITORIAL: Hopeful trade talks will resume

IT is hoped that once Canada and CARICOM can agree on an agenda to strengthen their ties, a place will be found for the resumption of their negotiations on an economic co-operation and development agreement.

The opportunity for co-operation between both sides was one of the matters considered at the 31st Inter-sessional Meeting held last week in Barbados.

Relations between Canada and CARICOM go back several years and while Canada has been a very genuine partner to this region, there remains further avenues for co-operation between both sides which are Commonwealth countries.

The Communiqué issued following the meeting, highlights Heads of Government welcoming the Foreign Minister of Canada, the Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, who set out an agenda for strengthening ties between his country and CARICOM. Mr. Champagne represented Canada at the talks after Canadian Prime Minister, the Honourable Justin Trudeau, was unable to attend. Heads of Government expressed their appreciation for the assistance granted by Canada in various fields, and looked forward to the initiatives proposed by the Foreign Minister.

Canada and CARICOM have enjoyed amicable relations and for a very long time. The Caribbean countries have benefited from Canadian investment in finance (banking and insurance) and certainly in the case of Barbados, international business. Canada has financed projects in the Caribbean in such areas as education, water, health. Years ago, the then Petro-Canada International was instrumental in helping Barbados to establish an oil industry when the Barbados National Oil Company Limited (BNOCL) was being set up.

While also providing millions of dollars in bilateral development assistance to this region, scores of Canadian visitors come to Barbados and the Caribbean every year. Set against this background, a Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) promises much for the region.

International trade is a very important area for Caribbean economies as they look to the market opening for both their goods and services. This is necessary for them to grow their economies, earn foreign exchange, boost their export sectors and provide jobs for their people.

Back in the 1980s CARIBCAN, a one-way trade accord, was agreed on between the two regions, which provided market access for Caribbean goods to enter the Canadian market.

Since the onset of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the 1990s, trade preferences have been subjected to global trading rules, although waivers have been granted for the CARIBCAN to remain until a successor agreement is found.

Since 2009 however, both sides were engaged in negotiations for the economic development agreement, coming immediately after CARIFORUM countries concluded an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

The talks were difficult and up to the time, a halt was called to the negotiations four years later, nine meetings were held. From all the reports on the discussions, no major conclusions were reached, although a broad range of issues were dealt with by the two sides.

Those issues included market access for goods, rules of origin, trade in services, dispute settlement, customs procedure, and environmental and labour issues.

Caribbean countries want to boost their trade potential through access to other markets. It is recognised that this will enhance the economies of the region through growth, investment and jobs.

It is hoped therefore the two sides can iron out their difficulties and get back to the negotiating table.

Barbados Advocate

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