Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, is pictured as he leaves the stage of the William Jefferson Clinton Ballroom following the Opening Ceremony of the 33rd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The ceremony was held yesterday at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian Spa and Beach Resort in Castries. (A. Gaskin/BGIS)

As regional leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) meet to discuss their future, high on the agenda is a concerted effort to finalise a new trading accord with Canada.??

News of this came yesterday from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, after the first day of the CARICOM heads of Government Meeting in Castries, St. Lucia.

He explained that during the summit, leaders would review a report that was submitted by Prime Minister Portia Simpson of Jamaican, as chairman of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Trade Negotiations, to have ongoing discussions with the Government of Canada on matters of trade. This was necessary, he added, to hammer out an agreement that would replace the existing CARIBCAN accord which, he said, would expire "very shortly".
CARIBCAN is a Canadian Government preferential trade programme that was established in 1986 for Caribbean Commonwealth countries. The agreement was created to promote the economic development prospects of the region; new investment opportunities; and to encourage enhanced economic integration and cooperation within the region to the Canadian market.

Mr. Stuart explained that there were a number of issues that were dividing CARICOM and Canada in relation to development, matters related to labour and the environment, and "what should and what should not go into the agreement between CARICOM and Canada".

"At the summit of the Americas, we met with the Prime Minister of Canada [Stephen Harper] and we discussed some of these issues. When the Governor-General of Canada [David Johnston] visited Barbados recently, I discussed the issues with him as well. But, we are optimistic that we can get an agreement before the existing one expires and there will be a seamless transition from the agreement with Europe to the new agreement. In fact, a fourth round of negotiations is to take place sometime this month, and we expect that whatever concessions have to be made on both sides will be made, so that we can secure a successor agreement to the existing one," the Prime Minister underscored.

Securing a new trade agreement with Canada, that includes developmental assistance, should go a long way towards boosting economic growth in the region.


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