By Vicky Augustine
Caribbean News Now contributor
OTTAWA, Canada -- Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states, high commissioners based in Ottawa and consuls general in Toronto met on June 21, 2012, in Ottawa, Canada.
This meeting was hosted by Trinidad and Tobago High Commissioner, Phillip Buxo; co-chaired by Michael Smith, Dean of CARICOM Diplomatic Corps, Ottawa, and Seth George Ramocan, Dean of CARICOM Consular Corps, Toronto.
This assembly was historic in the sense that Canada is talking free trade and open borders, with the recent news by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade (TPP) talks.
And so, CARICOM member states are right there, playing their part – not to be left out.
To date, Europe considers the Caribbean region as one entity, in terms of trade economic and development policy.
The US has its own vested interest in security and trading partners in Latin America and, unless the Caribbean region via CARICOM acts as a single entity with stronger network capability, there is little leverage to be gained.
In so doing, the Ottawa meeting between CARICOM member states and diplomats is setting the stage and leading in the right direction.
Pending the full report of potential outcomes, bi-lateral trade relations and fiscal advantages that indicate better options to doing business with CARICOM, Canada is ready.
Discussion commenced with an update on proposed trade and development agreement between CARICOM and Canada.
Matters of international education were also discussed as, meanwhile, CARICOM member states gear up for one of the biggest summits on information, communication and technologies (ICTs) in the Americas.
The student body of Caribbean nations in Canada is growing and so are the social support, knowledge transfer, and cultural diversity issues that have to be addressed in the spirit of cooperation.
As a consequence, the CARICOM Diaspora was brought into the fold, knowing the advantages that the Diaspora can explore in socio-economic relationships for member states.
Despite long-lasting issues, the strategy for an economic, trade and bi-lateral relationship with Canada is a win-win proposition that has to be pursued vigorously.
The challenge of priority, market access, high value and services is an important component for consideration and central to the CARICOM marketplace. These are competitive advantages that require tough and skillful negotiations.
The indication is now is the opportune time.
The pursuit of unilateral agreements is the key to eliminating barriers in the drive to gain openness and leverage dual opportunities. Therefore, in a world of integration, the difficult issue of Canada immigration and labour policies were tabled.
This discussion centered on how best to facilitate labour exchanges, migrant workers, short term employment opportunities and its impact on Caribbean nationals. The sensitive issues of refugees, deportation and other security matters were discussed and await counsel.
These global issues affect both Canada and CARICOM member states and accumulate a severe cost that is a major talking point on a daily basis; including its impact on nationals.
While there are broad benefits to be achieved, agreements are being negotiated by CARICOM high commissioners and consuls general to improve living standards of CARICOM member states that will provide market access to business, facilitate information, communication and technologies (ICTs) and knowledge transfer.
The tools for trade, education, labour and immigration are accessible. The diversity of markets, customers and channels are buzzing with the fusion of emerging markets.
And so, in unison with the vast skills, knowledge and experience these are strategic challenges that represent an invaluable asset base.
In the words of former prime minister P J Patterson of Jamaica, "To find meaningful solutions, we must not confine our search to a few limited areas, and certainly not just to trade in goods.”
CARICOM and Canada are poised for an excellent relationship and, given market data and the realities of rapid growth in emerging markets, the indication is such that a better deal can be negotiated with Canada than what is available with Europe.
In fact, current business intelligence supports this advantage in the global repositioning process. Undeniably, Saint Lucia will be an active participant at this time in global affairs when the heads of government meet in Saint Lucia July 4 - 6 2012.
At that meeting, Dr Kenny Anthony, prime minister of Saint Lucia will take over the chairmanship of CARICOM.
The Caribbean faces many challenges, and Sir Shridath Ramphal pointed out that “Caribbean economic integration, CARICOM itself, is the product of a massive effort to preserve patience in negotiation and goodwill and understanding in regional development. It will not survive if we abandon patience in the pursuit of consensus or allow petulance, or, more so suspicion, to displace goodwill and understanding. Regionalism is a plant of tender growth. It must be nurtured and cared for or its early blooms will fall, and the tree itself will wither and die. The true measure of our desire that it should flourish is the quality of our attentiveness to its survival and growth”.