Former Prime Minister Professor Owen Arthur has expressed concern about a diminished bilateral relationship between Canada and the Caribbean.
Describing the region’s relationship with Canada as one that was based on valuable attributes, shared development outlook and common interest and common objectives” dating back over 100 years, Arthur said the relationship “has demonstratively been our most valued relationship as regards to other countries”.
However, Arthur argued that while the relationship between the North American country and the Caribbean continued to be a “rich” one, Canada’s interest had changed somewhat, and that country now had “a more global focus” to its international relationships.
Singling out the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), bilateral trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the US, which came into force in the early 1990’s, Arthur said it has had “severe implications for the Caribbean. One result has been the demise of the once flourishing textile industry.
Stating that the region lost thousands of jobs as a result of the NAFTA agreement, Arthur said: “I would go so far as to say that the Caribbean industrial sector, which used to be dominated by textiles exports, has never fully recovered because of the absence of parity with Mexico.”
“Canada still has a relationship like that of our other traditional partners with the Caribbean, but it has progressively sought to reduce its bilateral relationships with our countries and sought increasingly so to have relationship with us through regional programmes or multilateral programmes,” he said.
“It is a matter that has to be of concern because the intimacy of our relationship with Canada was strong because it was largely bilateral but a large part of our relationship with Canada now is through Canada’s relationship with multilateral institutions of which we are in need. I would like to suggest that in certain respects it is making the relationship not as wonderful as it used to be,” he said.
The economist said the reduction in the content and vibrancy of bilateral relations was not unique to Canada.
He was addressing a Vice-Chancellor’s Forum at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination on the topic Evolving Canada – Caribbean Relations.
Arthur said as a result of the reduced relationship, there has been “a financial void” at a time when it is strongly needed.
“But mercifully for the Caribbean, and this has to be said without apology, that financial void that has in part been left by the diminution of our bilateral relationship with our traditional partners, has had to be filled by China and Venezuela,” said Arthur.
Stating that people were now becoming “concerned” about the Caribbean’s financial relationship with China and Venezuela, the question should be asked “If those relationships did not take place what would have happened to our Caribbean at this time of the most dire financial need in our history?”
He predicted that if the Canada-Caribbean relationship was not addressed there would be a deeper and deeper drift.
Arthur suggested that the region “revisits” its relationship with Canada with the intention of moving beyond just market access arrangements.
“We want to have development cooperation at the centre of it,” said Arthur.
“We can no longer build an economy on preferential trade arrangements. We cannot build an economy on the unilateral tax benefits like arrangements we had with Canada. That is unsustainable. It is an economy that has to be rooted in something that is more substantial and we are now living in a world where more economic activity is being driven by technology and innovation, and the sooner we get on that platform the better,” said Arthur.
In her presentation, High Commissioner of Canada to Barbados Marie Legault outlined the development of the relationship between Canada and the Caribbean over the years, while agreeing that there had been a change in the support the region received from the North American country.
However, she said the change was in support of institutions that the Caribbean countries themselves have created.
“It is true that in accordance to the OECD research and analysis, we have shifted our aid cooperation from bilateral relationship to regional relationship to make sure that we have a bigger impact. This has had some results,” said Legault, who said she disagreed that the shift had left a financial void.
“We still invest quite a lot in the region every year especially in areas for which the region is vulnerable like public financial management, disaster risk management, crisis recovery after natural disasters, and also in new aspects like the blue economy and green economy.