New CARICOM-Canada trade pact unlikely before 2012

-Montour

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) currently being negotiated between Canada and CARICOM may not be completed before the end of the year, when the current arrangement—CARIBCAN—ends.

Canadian diplomat, Francois Montour, who ended his tour of duty as the country’s High Commissioner to Guyana last week, told Stabroek News in an interview that the negotiators were hoping to wrap up talks by the end of December “but now it seems that it may extend into next year. But it’s hard to say, we have negotiating teams that are working hard.”

CARIBCAN grants unilateral duty-free access to eligible goods from beneficiary countries in the English-speaking Caribbean up to the end of 2011. It is benefitting from an exemption from the World Trade Organisation and Montour stressed that if the new FTA is not signed by the end of the year, it is uncertain if the trade body would approve an extension of the current arrangement. “We don’t control the WTO, so cases would have to be made to them,” he said, while adding that it would be much more favourable for CARICOM and Canada to sign an agreement by the end of the year.

Francois Montour

Canada supports Guyana in a number of ways but, two years ago, trimmed Guyana from the list of countries with which it has bilateral assistance programmes. Instead, the focus is now on CARICOM.

Montour recalled that in 2007, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a package of CDN$600M over ten years under the Regional Caribbean Programme of Assistance. The programme is targeted to support the economic growth in the region and security in the region. “The implementation of the financial assistance programme is based on the regional approach that means that we will be working and we are working right now with regional institutions such as CARICOM, the Caribbean Development Bank (and) other regional institutions in terms of economic growth and security,” said Montour. He noted that CARICOM leaders had called for this regional approach and the benefits are going to trickle to the countries through these institutions.

In terms of economic growth, the programme is supporting initiatives that will help member states with their public financial management as well as help the different private sector associations so that the structures to support economic growth are better equipped and have the capacity to face the global economic challenge facing the region, Montour said.

With regards to security, the programme supports “rule of law implementation” in all the states by providing technical assistance to the judicial system in different forms. In addition, assistance is also extended in the area of supporting disaster management capability.

The diplomat said that there is no specific sum set aside for each country. “The idea of supporting the regional programme comes also from the wish and the will of the leaders of the member states of the CARICOM to integrate the region economically as well as working on the regional security aspect rather than separate states specifically so there is no specific amount targeting each country rather it’s supporting projects that are approved at the regional level with input from each of the country and each of the member states,” he said. Montour said that the programme doubled assistance to the region, with the total of all the bilateral programmes that existed before 2007 being about Cdn$300M over ten years. He stressed that the new programme shows the importance that Canada attaches to the Caribbean region.

Montour said that Canada believes that the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) is the way for CARICOM to go. “We believe that this is the way that the CARICOM member states have to look at the future and we support, we supported them and we still support that approach where we feel that as an integrated region there’s better chances for the CARICOM states together to benefit from the global market economy potential but as well facing the challenges of a global market economy and access to different markets in the world,” he said.

The diplomat said that assistance to Haiti is also covered under the same programme, with the amount going to that state in the last two years being between Cdn$15M and $20M per year. He noted that the regional institutions themselves considered that Haiti needs more assistance in certain areas so a bit more money was directed there. With the Conservatives consolidating their position in the Canadian government, Montour said that the strategy established in terms of aid assistance remains the same and remains extremely valid. Nothing has really changed since the announcement of the regional programme, he said.

Local investments

Canadian companies are deeply involved in the gold mining sector here and at least two were negotiating their operating licence: Guyana Goldfields and First Bauxite. “We have almost 30 of them which are directly involved here and that means a  lot of…Canadian direct investment in the country to do this prospecting and eventually we all hope that it turns into large scale mining operations, which in turn will bring significant benefit to the country,” Montour said. He said that while many are in the prospecting stage, there are benefits to the local economy in terms of employment and the consumption of items. When the real operation starts, there will be increased benefits, he said.

In relation to First Bauxite, the diplomat said that he understands that they have signed the mineral agreement and while he was not aware of any specific details on Guyana Goldfields negotiations, he noted that the issues are complex. Nevertheless, he was confident that the agreement will be finalised soon.

Other Canadian companies are involved in oil prospecting here as well. Montour said that the High Commission supports the investors and tries to promote, as much as possible, transparency and good governance in the mining sector. It also tries to create and promote additional liaisons and joint ventures between local businessmen and Canadian businesses. “We support and I’m here to support continuous cooperative and fruitful relationships at the political level as well as the economic level in the country,” he said.

Montour said that while Canada is not a major world power, it is a major economic force and has a role to play in terms of influencing good governance at the world level – to bring about the Canadian values of democracy, rule of law and human rights in all the countries of the world. Canada has been maintaining its position and taking action to maintain this position, he said.

Montour said that he has enjoyed his stay here. He added that he will be taking back memories of the golf tournaments he has participated in. An avid player, Montour urged the government to support golf as a sport, keeping in mind that it is now an Olympic sport. All that is needed is a professional-level golf course and a training programme and some of the “good players” here could make it to the Olympics, he said.

Montour said that he has enjoyed as well, sitting several times in some “typical Guyanese rum shops” and seeing Guyanese exchanging socially. The diplomat said that he has decided to return to Canada for personal and family reasons and will be working for the Canadian government in Ottawa.

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