Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean in conversation with Charge D’affairs at the United States Embassy, Dr. Brent Hardt; President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Andy Armstrong (backing) and British High Commissioner to Barbados, Paul Brummel??(partially hidden) at the business luncheon??of the BCCI,?? held recently ??at Hilton Barbados.

Barbados’ major trading partners, the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA) and Canada, have been acknowledged for helping to shape trade and investment relations for the island.??????

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, made this recognition yesterday as she addressed the March business luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) hosted at Hilton Barbados.

Senator McClean said: "As we witness the rapidly changing international landscape, characterised by the emergence of new centres of economic power, these countries remain important destination markets, sources of investment and critical imports, and major homes of our diaspora."??

She noted that Barbados "had been helped in this relationship by generous concessions in terms of development assistance and ease of access to markets through unilateral trading preferences. We are aware that such preferences have about ended and we are adjusting rapidly to the new global arena, where free trade is the expected norm."

Alluding to relations with the UK, the Minister explained that there had been a redefinition by way of the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).?? ????And, she said: "We are working hastily to bring this Agreement into full legal effect. The EPA is a historic agreement and we must continue to work together to ensure that the potential benefits accrue."

Of the US, Senator McClean observed that the reshaping of that relationship was "on CARICOM’s radar".?? "We are presently engaged in negotiations with the USA which will lead to the finalisation of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.?? This Agreement will serve as a forum for CARICOM and the United States to meet and discuss issues of mutual interest.?? These include cooperation and the enhancement of trading and investment opportunities," she revealed.

The Foreign Affairs Minister pointed out that a redefinition of Canada would also occur as CARICOM prepares for the Third Round of negotiations for a trade and development agreement. She stressed: "The process is a challenging one, as we seek to coordinate and harmonise regional positions.?? Our national preparations are informed by a consultative process which involves you and members of the Government and civil society.?? We must ensure that your interests are adequately reflected."????

Representatives at the luncheon further heard that Government was addressing threats to the offshore and international business sector, and that Barbados remained a leader in Caribbean affairs with a high level of political stability and a clean jurisdiction, transparent in its financial arrangements.??

Meanwhile, Charge D’Affairs for the US Embassy, Dr. Brent Hardt in his address, urged Barbados, as it looked to enhance trade and investment, to think of the United States as its partner of choice. He said, "… not only because of our historical ties, existing business links, the current volume of trade, the close geography, the common language, or that the United States offers the world’s largest consumer market, but also because the United States is in my view the ideal business partner for Barbados."

Noting that the close cultural and personal connections between the two countries were best exemplified by the droves of American tourists who flocked here on vacation, he said: "135,000 Americans came to Barbados last year as stay-over tourists, more than a ten per cent increase over 2009.?? And, a majority of the 665,000 cruise ship visitors were also American. Americans love Barbados and love to spend their money on Barbadian products." Dr. Hardt also pointed out that trade "goes both ways" and assured the country that the U.S. market was open to Barbadian businesses, both for export and investment.??

He stressed: "The United States is Barbados’ top export market, with about 20 per cent of all of Barbados exports headed there.?? Banks beer exports Barbados’ premier beer to the United States, and was featured at Disney World’s Epcot Center Food and Wine Festival in October and November last year.?? Of course, Barbados’ most famous export to the United States is Rihanna, and we would certainly welcome additional exports like her."

It was also explained that the US was the world’s greatest source of technology and capital investment, making it ideally suited for businesses.?? "One of the United States’ most important ways to promote Barbadian business has been through our support of entrepreneurship and building local business to expand US-Barbados trade," said the Charge D’Affairs.

Dr. Hardt recalled that both the late Prime Minister David Thompson and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had called for the re-awakening of the spirit of entrepreneurship in Barbados.?? And, he said: "In his address to the Barbados National Entrepreneurship Summit last year, a summit that the United States helped to sponsor, Prime Minister Stuart affirmed his vision for Barbados to become a

Centre of Entrepreneurial Excellence by the year 2020. He demonstrated his Government’s support for the growth of entrepreneurism through the National Information and Communication Technologies 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, which is designed to encourage a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship."??

As he assured the island that there was commitment by his Government, Dr. Hardt said the US had been actively working to support this entrepreneurial vision.?? From President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to all of us here at Embassy Bridgetown, the United States is committed to supporting the growth of entrepreneurism in the Caribbean," he stressed.

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