(HN, January 20, 2012) -- The seventh biennial UK-Caribbean Forum begins today in St. George, Grenada under the theme of “Sustainable Growth Towards Prosperity”.
The forum is held for the purpose of what has been described as “establishing priority areas for cooperation, discussing key area of concern and proposing mechanisms to facilitate greater collaboration” between Britain and CARICOM nations, this year’s agenda has been organized around three main sub themes: Economic Resilience, Security and the Environment.
Held at the level of Foreign Ministers, the Meeting is co-chaired by the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague and the Chair of the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, Foreign Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis.
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has highlighted the major role of private sector investment in these difficult economic times saying, “the private sector is the engine of growth for our economies”
The UK is a major investor in the Caribbean – BG has recently made a large investment in Trinidad and Tabago, and Pinewood Studios are building a state of the art film studio in the Dominican Republic with local partners Grupo Vinci.
“There are however more business opportunities available, which is why I am being accompanied by Nick Baird, Chief Executive of UK Trade and Investment, and will lead a discussion with a rage of UK and Caribbean businesses at the Forum, “ said Hague.
The British foreign official hailed a ‘new era’ for UK-Caribbean relations, as for the first time in its seven iterations of the Forum, the Dominican Republic, one of the fastest-growing countries in the area, Haiti and Suriname will also take part, and observers will include British Caribbean Overseas Territories, including Bermuda, Canada, Australia and the USA.
He went on to say, “When I became Foreign Secretary I was determined to reinvigorate the UK’s relationships with its partners across the Caribbean. This year’s Forum has afforded me my first opportunity to demonstrate this commitment in concrete terms, by hearing firsthand the value of our relationships and how we can improve them.
Hague noted that around one and a half million British tourists visited the Caribbean in 2010, and tourism is a key plank of the economy, but, the Forum was set up in part to emphasise other vital links
CARICOM members, keen to discuss Hague’s expressed interest in forging a new relationship that reflects “changes in the global environment” of the 21st century, are also looking to discuss some sensitive issues of concern in the Caribbean region - ranging from problems being encountered on the arrival in the UK by CARICOM nationals on legitimate businesses to:
- The recent threat by the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron to review allocation of aid to countries the he thinks “openly discriminate” against gays and lesbians; and
- The level of aid flows for depressed and vulnerable economies and the related prevailing dispute over British-imposed Air Passenger Duty (APD) levy on passengers traveling to the Caribbean from airports in the UK, that has pushed some stakeholders of the region’s vital tourism industry, to consider legal action unless there is a practical solution.
The forum, is also expected to find the CARICOM-member states in a more determined mood to collectively pursue a relevant “aid for trade” strategy with the UK which remains a major development donor in the region.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has been playing a key role in facilitating such a strategy which was the topic of a teleconference that was organized last October by the Trade Policy Unit of the Castries-based Secretariat of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The new Secretary General of the CARICOM Secretariat, Irwin LaRocque, will most likely be in a better position to advance discussion on the need for timely delivery of "aid for trade" resources by the region's traditional external partners (including the UK), a matter that was addressed last July at the Third Global Review of Aid for Trade in Geneva.
Speaking then in his capacity as Assistant Secretary General for Trade and Economic Integration, LaRocque had emphasized the importance of this region's international development partners being sensitized to the imperatives of "timely delivery" of aid resources to comparatively small and vulnerable regional economies.
Hague has given assurance that he is not about to "throw away all of the strong bonds that tie the UK and the Caribbean region together…"
Such an assurance at this time, when the global economic crisis and more specifically the deepening "Eurozone financial woes" combine to further negatively impact on the economies of the Caribbean, the British Foreign Secretary is undoubtedly also conscious of the growing importance being attached by the two Asian economic giants: China and India, in doing business with the Caribbean region.
The Chinese spread of trade and economic relations from Jamaica in the northern sub-region to Guyana on the South American mainland would hardly have escaped the attention of either the UK or its closest ally, the USA, where successive administrations in Washington, so often still treat relations with the Caribbean as operating in a so-called "American lake".
While the vigorous initiatives by China to deepen trade and economic ties with the Caribbean on favorable terms, cannot be divorced from longer-term political objectives as an emerging world power under constant scrutiny by the USA, UK and their NATO allies; it is also becoming evident that India is likewise increasingly competing for business and friendship in the Caribbean-Latin American sphere.
- HUMNEWS Staff