Canada has reaffirmed its commitment to fostering development in the Caribbean and the Americas and Canadian Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) Peter Kent described his recent visit here as productive.
He held meetings with President Bharrat Jagdeo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett where they discussed ways to strengthen relations between the two countries, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.
Canada’s interest in fostering regional development was fortified in 2007 when the country’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a new Americas policy which recognizes the longstanding connection with countries of the Americas and the Caribbean.
Included also, GINA added, was Canada’s commitment to deepen relationships to improve some of the economic aspects, security and democratic development to some corners of the region, and also to work on issues involving labour agreements, human rights and the environment.
According to GINA, Kent noted at a press briefing at the Canadian High Commission that these discussions will be featured at the Summit of the Americas slated to be held in Trinidad and Tobago from April 17 to 19.
He also noted that all countries are focusing on the international economic crisis which has impacted on every economy.
The Canadian minister said it is against this background that Heads of Government will be looking at ways to ensure that markets stay open, finance is available for countries and there is liquidity in the region to help them through the crisis.
He asserted that from Canada’s point of view they are creating new trade agreements which will help to keep the economies going while at the same time ensuring that people receive full benefits from trade and investments.
And responding to a question on whether the new trade agreement that Canada is working on with CARICOM will impact on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU, Kent said that he has assured CARICOM and some of the countries that have doubts that the free trade agreement which they are pursuing with the region is in many ways different, more comprehensive and is an agreement that is open at any time for adjustment.
The agreement recognizes the fact that some of the CARICOM countries have different degrees of capacity and priorities in terms of trade and in fulfilling the expectations of free trade. Kent said the agreements are similar to those with Peru and Columbia which addressed labour, indigenous people, human rights and environmental concerns.
Moreover, Canada is quite prepared to proceed at the pace of the slowest member of CARICOM, the minister said, and it would be in everyone’s interest to formalise a new agreement as early as possible since the current one expires in 2011. This, he added, has been discussed with President Jagdeo and CARICOM’s Secretary General Edwin Carrington.
The new agreement is not tied to the Canadian Development Fund and is one that will address trade and development in the region, Kent explained, and he is hoping that discussions can be forthcoming before the Summit of the Americas.
On Guyana’s fight against drug trafficking, the minister said that while more needs to be done the drug issue is not one country’s problem, rather it is hemispheric.
Meanwhile, in discussions with the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community on Monday at the Headquarters of the CARICOM Secretariat, Kent reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the Member States of the Caribbean Community and expressed the intention to deepen engagement in the Caribbean by building on the present relationship.
A CARICOM Headquar-ters press release stated that in welcoming these sentiments, Secretary-General Carrington noted Canada’s long standing relationship with the Caribbean and stressed that the country has been a reliable friend of the Community.
Among the issues discussed were the upcoming negotiations for a free trade agreement between CARICOM and Canada. The Minister of State indicated that Canada was desirous of having an agreement that would also address issues such as labour, health and human rights. For his part the Secretary-General said CARICOM would be seeking an agreement with a trade-related development component.
The preparations for the upcoming Fifth Summit of the Americas were also touched upon.
Meanwhile, Carrington thanked Canada for the assistance it is lending to the process and he also expressed the Community’s appreciation for the support received from Canada for the strengthening of Haiti’s participation in the CSME, under which the CARICOM Representation Office in Haiti was re-established. He also called for Canada’s support in multilateral fora for issues of concern to the Community, particularly the vulnerability of small states.
Kent recalled Canada’s commitment to CARICOM of Cdn$600 million made by Prime Minister Harper when he met with CARICOM leaders in Barbados in 2007 to strengthen regional integration and development.