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Canada Offers Free Trade Deal To Caribbean

by Leroy Baker,, New York

24 July 2007

During a tour of the region last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced plans to begin free trade negotiations with the Caribbean Community countries, as part of efforts to bolster investment and trade links with the region.

"One of the key purposes of my visit here is to launch free trade negotiations between Canada and our CARICOM (Caribbean Community) partners. A free trade agreement would complement and help further develop the regional cooperation that you are already taking," Harper said on Thursday in a speech in Bridgetown, Barbados, which currently holds the presidency of CARICOM. Canada exported C$1.2 billion worth of goods to the Caribbean Community in 2006.

"Now I know there is some skepticism within the region about free trade," he added. "But frankly, there is no better way to boost living standards over the long term. And your region is following a proven path by working toward a single trading block."

Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur said the region is looking for a "mature, modern trade deal" with Canada that would include not only goods but services and a dispute-settlement mechanism. However, he doubted whether all Caribbean nations were ready for full-fledged free trade, saying the process must be nuanced enough to respect the special circumstances of smaller, poorer islands.

Caribbean leaders decided at the 28th CARICOM Summit in Barbados earlier in the month that the Caribbean Single Economy should be fully operational by 2015. Last January, Owen Arthur expressed confidence that the member states are on track to implement the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in January 2008.

2006 saw substantial progress within CARICOM itself towards the creation of a unified free trade area. Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago launched a limited version of the CSME in mid-year, while the OECS states, including Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, BVI, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines signaled their intention to form their own economic union, as well as committing to membership of the CSME. In July, Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands, Dr Orlando Smith, revealed that the territory's government is considering its future participation in the CSME.

CARICOM negotiations with the USA for a free-trade area are also alive and kicking, with a number of substantive meetings having taken place during the last year.

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