Caricom must show that we want a hand up, not a hand out

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

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THE negotiations between the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and Canada for a trade agreement remain unfinished despite several extensions of the deadline for completion. Last Sunday was the last deadline to be missed.

If those delays in completion were a clear indication that Caricom was fighting for better terms and conditions it would be cause for approbation. At this stage we are not sure that is the case.

The Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement, known as CARIBCAN, was established in 1986 as the Canadian version of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) provided by the United States. But CARIBCAN did not include in the one-way preferential treatment, textiles and apparel, footwear, luggage, handbags, leather garments, lubricating oils and methanol. It did not cover services and investment as most modern trade pacts do.

Replacing the CARIBCAN addresses two problems, namely: widened coverage to include services and investment, and obviate the need to periodically go to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for a waiver. The membership of the WTO is increasingly unwilling to grant waivers for preferential trade agreements such as CARIBCAN.

Some say the Canadians are not being mean-spirited, but are trying to help the region by providing a "hand up" with a trade agreement which could promote exports of goods and services and stimulate private foreign investment. Such a trade agreement would be a means by which Caricom could earn its way.

Whatever one might say, there is a sense that Caricom believes it is entitled, by virtue of being small, to one-way preferential access to the Canadian market. But having given that in the form of CARIBCAN for almost 30 years, the Canadians now seem to be insisting that trade is better for boosting economic development.

Developed countries now believe that preferential treatment did not benefit the recipients in the way anticipated. There is also the view that Caricom consists of middle-income developing countries that should move on from preferential trade arrangements and a steady diet of aid. This perspective can be debated, but even if it is wrong the reality is that it is the prevailing view.

If Caricom does not want what Canada is prepared to give, then we should stop the farce. Intransigence and delays are only effective negotiating tactics if the other side really wants something from Caricom.

Canada is certainly not worried about market access to tiny islands and certainly not worried about the impact of importing manufactured goods, even from a Trinidad. For the Canadians it is not about trade, it is about foreign policy. They do not want anything from Caricom but they cannot go to the Canadian public with that.

Caricom needs to understand that trade is far more beneficial than aid and should not appear to be only going along with the trade agreement as a means of getting a commitment for aid. Our strategists must press to show that we are genuinely trying to help ourselves.

Terminating the negotiations or a further delay only confirms the widely held view that Caricom is not serious about helping itself and further erodes the credibility of the regional grouping as a reliable international partner.




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