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Britain to draw closer to Jamaica, official pledges

INGRID BROWN AND ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 20, 2012    

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PARLIAMENTARY Undersecretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Henry Bellingham is confident that bilateral trade between Jamaica and the United Kingdom (UK) will double over the next four years.

Bellingham, who was recently given portolio responsibility for the Caribbean, said this would be among the five top priority areas he plans to address during his tenure.

"We already have a very good bilateral relationship but we want to make it even more intense," Bellingham told the Jamaica Observer during a recent interview.

"We want to see key UK businesses looking at opportunities for Jamaica around agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, financial services, and the way to build that wealth and relieve poverty and to empower families is through trade and investment, and I feel really strongly about that," he said.

Reiterating that the way to move forward was not through aid but through trade, Bellingham said the UK was going to be more proactive and less reactive.

Also high on his agenda of things to tackle are strengthening cooperation between the two countries in combatting drug trafficking and organised crime with linkages in both Jamaica and the UK.

"I think there is a lot of potential for working even more closely together in terms of sharing intelligence and operation on the ground," he said.

Bellingham also hopes to strengthen the areas of natural partnership between Jamaica and the UK.

"We have a very strong special unique relationship and it has become a much more mature relationship," he said. "...I think there was a time, maybe in early days of Independence, where there would have been some suspicion of doing too many things with Britain, because we were the former colonial masters, but that has now moved on...Now we have a mature relationship based on trust and mutual respect and working together."

As for the controversial Air Passenger Duty imposed on airfares for persons travelling from the UK to the Caribbean, Bellingham said the matter would be kept under review.

Noting that he understands the concerns of Caribbean countries who had seen their tourism numbers from the UK plunge as a result of the increased duty, Bellingham said his office had passed on to his Government the strong feelings of the Caribbean heads of mission who recently met to discuss the issue. He said they should have another meeting with the relevant UK treasury minister on the matter.

In the meantime, Jamaica is to get assistance from the United Kingdom with its efforts to reform the justice system, according to Member of Parliament, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke, QC, who last week held discussions with Jamaica's Foreign Affairs Minister Senator A J Nicholson.

The Jamaican Justice System Reform Project (JJSR) was set up by the Government in 2006 to undertake a comprehensive review of the justice system and to develop strategies and mechanisms to facilitate its modernisation. The aim of the project is to create a justice system which is more efficient, accessible, accountable, fair and able to deliver timely results in a cost-effective manner.

A comprehensive review of the Jamaican Justice System was done by the Canadian Bar Association between October 2007 and July 2008.

Senator Nicholson said the British had also indicated the level to which they wanted to be involved in those talks.

"We discussed things such as the drafting of legislation, the backlog in the courts and how they might assist to help us find initiatives to reduce the backlog," he said.

Senator Nicholson said there might also be help in the drafting of legislation which remains a key area of concern.

"The Commonwealth Secretariat has often assisted us and the secretary of state said he would urge the Secretariat to see how best they could further assist us in the drafting of legislation. Draftsmanship is really scarce right across the world and in the Commonwealth as well, so any assistance that we can get from any quarter would be welcome," Nicholson added.

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