Caricom’s negotiations with Canada for a new trade agreement must take full account of the bloc’s interests, given the differences in size and levels of development, says Cari-com Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque.
LaRocque delivered the first of opening remarks yesterday during the 38th session of the Carib- bean Community’s (CARICOM’s) Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), held at the Pegasus Hotel.
His statement comes amidst the backdrop of charges by Canada that the Community is not bringing “ambition” to trade negotiations. An article appearing earlier this month in the Jamaican Gleaner quotes Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD) spokeswoman, Caitlin Workman, as saying “Canada has communicated our desire to conclude negotiations in the immediate term, and urging Caricom to bring an appropriate level of ambition to the table to do so.”
The new agreement is meant to replace CaribCan, established in 1986. June 30, 2014 has been set by the two sides for conclusion of the negotiations for a new deal which has been spoken about as far back as 2001 The article attributed the slow moving talks to “concerns by some Caricom countries that the shift to a reciprocal arrangement (which is what Canada is seeking) could lead to the opening up of a trade gap in Canada’s favour and less revenue collected at the port.” The last set of discussions took place in Ottawa, Canada earlier this month, and the matter was placed in the agenda of COTED’s 38th session, which is now underway in Guyana.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General said that negotiations for a Caricom-Canada Trade and Development Agree-ment are at a critical stage as both sides are working to conclude negotiations by the 24th of next month.
“Good progress has been made since the beginning of the year in our negotiations and both sides are pleased that we have been able to conclude text negotiations, ad referendum, on matters such as Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Facilitation, Customs Procedures and Transparency in Government Procedure,” LaRocque told the scores of Caricom officials in attendance during the meeting.
He said that yesterday’s and today’s discussions will serve to assess “where we are in the negotiations and the flexibilities required to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement. This Agreement must take full account of Caricom’s development interests, given the differences in size and levels of development between Caricom and Canada,” LaRocque stated.
Five Year Development Plan
He also announced the near-completion of the Community’s first-ever five-year plan which, he says seeks to identify the strategic priorities to be focused on for that period. LaRocque said that the plan is the product of widespread stakeholder consultations.
Those consulted includes members states, associate members and various institutions.
“As I have repeatedly said, prioritisation is essential. We need to focus our attention on a few strategic priorities which would make a difference to our sustainable growth and development. That is the change that the Reform Process seeks to bring.”
The Private Sector
Today, the council will commence the process of seeking to re-engage the private sector. LaRocque said that the private sector is “one of the key stakeholders in our Community,” adding that the role of the sector in the regional economy has been a matter of discussion in various forums in CARICOM for some time.
“We have long recognised that the full involvement of the private sector was necessary in order to achieve our economic goals. The task is to create a structure that will give the private sector a meaningful role in assisting to set the policy objectives,” LaRocque explained. He posited that the private sector’s involvement in such considerations will increase the likelihood of creating an environment conducive to executing business and attracting investment.
Dialogue with the private sector, he said, will cover several areas including: “Public Private Partnerships; Public Private Partnerships; The application of Information and Communications Technology (ICT); and the Ease of doing business in the CSME.
“In all of these, the interests of the private sector must be taken into account as it is from within that group, lies the greatest possibility for advancing those various initiatives,” LaRocque said. He also said that working with the private sector on the above mentioned issues will situate the Community in a position where it can capitalise on opportunities within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and in the trade agreements which the Community is party to.
Such improvements would be welcomed, especially since LaRocque says a review of the Community’s performance under bilateral free trade agreements confirms that “we are not taking full advantage of market opportunities.”