Senior Minister Kerrie Symonds says this country’s trade agreements with North American countries are “ineffectual” in modern times.
Addressing the Canada-Caribbean Institute Symposium at the University of the West Indies Sagicor School of Business on Thursday, he said, “We have a trading agreement with Canada and one with the United States, both of which, if you were to view them objectively by modern standards, are a little bit flaccid and ineffectual, for want of a better way of putting it.”
Symmonds, the Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade minister made the comments, while noting that United States’ and Canada’s trading agreements with Barbados were created in 1984 and 1986 respectively, and gave access to their markets on a non reciprocal and preferential basis.
“In both cases, [there was] a very limited amount of product. In the case of Canada you get some rum, but it doesn’t include any clothing. So the clothing manufacturers such as they are down here won’t benefit from that. (The agreement) has nothing whatsoever to do with services. In the case of the United States of America, same type of thing.
“The bottom-line is that we are talking about two major trading partners with whom we are enjoying a relationship that has largely stalled, and it has stalled because of the fact that after 40 years, all that those relationships are objectively, not based on genuine economic development thrusts, but on a paternalistic approach, which is incompatible with World Trade Organisation rules, on non discrimination and most favored nation issues,” he explained.
He told those gathered for the event themed ‘Decoloniality: Past, Present and Future Directions that Caribbean countries will never be able to engage as equals with larger international countries.
However, he added, “We want to be able to engage in a principled manner on robust issues that allow for economic development in a very genuine way and in a very targeted way,” he suggested.
Saying for example, that the region has a set of highly-skilled professionals with a revenue capacity of millions of dollars, if placed under a firm trade agreement, he insisted, the region should not have to wait on extensions to be granted for 40-year old agreements.
“Both sides of the relationship deserve so much better than that. I refuse to believe that our top medical professionals ought not to be able to offer their services in Canada alongside of their top medical professionals or that our top engineers who have done some phenomenal work in the region, ought not to be able to similarly offer those services in Canada and it goes on and on with every service imaginable.
“That is really where we want to get and we need to have that type of an agreement that is structured along the lines that still recognize the inherent limitations of countries of small size and limited human resource capacity,” he said.
Pointing out that last year the US sold $67 billion in services to Canada, Symmonds insisted that Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean must be able to access this market.
“So yes, we want to trade like anybody else… But we are outside of that looking in and it is a revenue opportunity that helps in turn for us to rebuild and to develop this region and we must do this in a mature way, where we engage with the Canadian authorities on some of the fundamentals like special and differential treatment for smaller states with whom they partner,” he advised.