Four rounds of talks in four years — that’s all CARICOM and Canadian negotiators have been able to manage.
And chairman of Barbados Private Sector Association, John Williams, is not at all impressed. He made his feelings known today while speaking at the opening of the Barbados Private Sector Trade Team’s “Consultation on the Status of the Region’s Negotiations with Canada” at The Island Inn Hotel.
While acknowledging that the discussions took place on the heels of those with the European Union, Williams expressed concern at the slow pace of the negotiations with Canada.
He further acknowledged that over the years, Canada has been a major trading partner of Barbados and by extension, the Caribbean region.
Williams noted that even though Barbados’ exports to Canada were less than two per cent, it had recorded growth in that market over the last two years.
In 2012, he explained, Barbados realised growth in exports to Canada of 37 per cent over the previous year.
The private sector chairman pointed out that in the area of tourism and direct foreign investment, Canada was even more important to Barbados as a source.
“Canada is a major source market for Barbados. According to statistics coming out of Canada, Canada is responsible for 75 per cent of Barbados’ international foreign business. Moreover, over 70,000 Canadians visit Barbados on a yearly basis.
“Both of these activities pump millions of dollars into our economy, and contribute significantly to employment and business activity in our island. Dozens of Barbadians also travel to Canada on a yearly basis to work in the farm labour programme or in the hotel industry,” Williams explained.
He noted that successful negotiations with the Canadian government could provide jobs for local professionals such as accountants, legal practitioners, engineers, insurance providers and a host of other services.
“An agreement with Canada will also secure conditions under which a number of our products can enter the Canadian market,” he added. “For instance, there are certain restrictions at present which apply to the sale of our beer and rum in the Canadian market and a proposed agreement can provide a way for these restrictions to be removed.
“Canada also maintains quota and seasonal restrictions on several of our commodity exports and we believe that the trade and development agreement with Canada will give us comprehensive access to that market.”
Williams pointed out that the Barbados Private Sector Trade Team had been involved in negotiations with Canada at all levels, explaining that it had convened a number of meetings in Canada between 2009 and 2010. The chairman disclosed that inputs at these meetings would have been forwarded to Barbados’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.
He gave the assurance that through the trade team they aspire to secure the best business relations with Canada, and expressed the hope that through today’s deliberations they would realise progress could be made. (NC)