Obama pleased with bilateral talks

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, April 10, 2015

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UNITED States President Barack Obama said yesterday that he was pleased with the level of talks between himself and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on a range of issues, including energy.

In his statement issued at the Office of the Prime Minister following a bilateral meeting between the two leaders, the US president said energy was one of the main areas discussed, and his country's role in helping Jamaica and other Caribbean states to reduce that cost.

"People in the Caribbean, despite having less resources, are paying significantly higher prices for energy. If we can lower those costs through the development of clean energy and increased energy efficiency, we could release a whole host of additional investment and growth. There are going to be areas where the US can be helpful," he said.

The commitment comes even as Venezuela and 29 other countries, including four Caribbean Community (Caricom) states, signed a letter which it issued to the US Embassy in Caracas and which was published in a local newspapers, calling on the president to withdraw the executive order that the White House issued earlier this month, labelling the oil-rich South American country as an "unusual and extraordinary threat to national security, and the foreign policy of the United States". The US also imposed new sanctions against Venezuela.

A number of Caricom countries, including Jamaica, now enjoy preferential arrangements under the PetroCaribe Agreement through which they are allowed to buy oil from Venezuela, and repay a percentage of the cost up front. But the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cautioned such countries that there could be negative impact on their economies if Venezuela's external liquidity problems escalate.

In the meantime, the Jamaican prime minister said within the context of the government's extended fund facility with the IMF, the leaders had "explored additional ways of improving our trade and economic relations" including in the area of energy security and renewable energy.

Simpson Miller also pointed out that one of the outcomes of the visit was the signing of a statement of intent between the countries, to pursue the development and deployment of energy-related technologies. "We aim to encourage increased bilateral trade, boost the development of emerging technologies and industries and pave the way for future innovation in energy-related fields," she said.

Obama, meanwhile, expressed his support for the Jamaican government's economic reform programme.

Additionally, the leaders discussed trade expansion, climate change, expectations for the Summit of the Americas, and security cooperation.

"Jamaica historically has had a very capable security effort but strains are being placed on Jamaica, as is true across the Caribbean, as the trans-national drug trade continues to make moves to expand its reach. Strengthening our co-operation, making sure that training, equipment, intelligence, coordination, that we are in sync, is going to be very important," he asserted.

President Obama left the island late yesterday evening for the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama.

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