PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller was expected home at Jamaica Observer press time from her shortened official visit to Canada, because of the impending hurricane, having gone there in a Canadian salute to Jamaica's 50 years of Independence.
Canada has been a true friend, nay, more like a big brother to Jamaica, and not in the Orwellian sense, but as an advocate and benevolent dispenser of development aid.
We sometimes wonder if Canada doesn't get tired of having to aid Jamaica. Hopefully, the hurricane will not cause the kind of damage that will force us to again turn to Canada. Even with genuine and heartfelt expressions of appreciation, donor countries will eventually begin to wonder if those they help will ever become self-reliant.
Canada has consistently provided help to Jamaica even before the island's political Independence in 1962. Canadian assistance has taken the form of aid, debt relief, preferential trade arrangements, and advocacy on our behalf in international forums where Jamaica does not have a seat.
Canada's preferential trade arrangements pre-dated Jamaica's Independence in the form of special quotas and prices for sugar. Shortly after the announcement of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), the Canadians decided to launch their own special trade programme for the Caribbean, rather than play second fiddle in the US-designed CBI. The CaribCan preferential trade programme was established in 1986 to promote trade and investment through duty-free, quota-free access of goods exports from the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean to the Canadian market. CaribCan has been renewed periodically since then, even when it required a waiver in the World Trade Organisation.
Despite the fact that the Caribbean has made inadequate use of this generous opportunity, the Canadians offered to upgrade CaribCan into a full free trade agreement (FTA) including services in 2006. The agreement, while called an FTA, was planned to be based on differential treatment. However, Caricom has not seriously pursued these negotiations because Canada did not offer an aid package.
The Canadians correctly stated that there would be aid, but the amount would be determined by the amount of adjustment required by the implementation of the FTA. Caricom, however, wanted the aid as a prerequisite of adjustment and implementation. Wisely, the Canadians did not fall for this ploy. The lack of implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the Europeans is a salutary lesson in this regard.
Canada represents Jamaica and Ireland on the boards of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank and has done an excellent job in defending our interest and articulating our concerns. It was while Canada was chairing the G-20 that then Prime Minister Bruce Golding was given an opportunity to speak about the plight of small states of the Caribbean.
At the recent IMF-World Bank annual meetings in Tokyo, Japan, it was the Canadian finance minister who supported the voices from the Caribbean in making the case for peculiar needs of the small middle-income developing countries.
We know we speak for all Jamaicans in reaffirming our friendship and our appreciation for the help of Canada. Let us, however, realise that friends and even family eventually get tired of always having to help.
It is time that we become economically independent and transform the Canada-Jamaica relationship to one of interdependence.