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CARICOM and Canada to hold trade talks

Barbados Advocate

CARICOM and Canada to hold trade talks

8 August 2008

Negotiations for a new trade agreement between the Caribbean and Canada should start in October.

This was disclosed yesterday by Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) Director General Henry Gill, who said the stage for formal talks had already been set following an exchange of ideas via a five hour video conference between the two sides in June.

He was speaking at the Canadian High Commission, Bishop-s Court Hill, St. Michael at a handing over ceremony where he received C$27.1 million in new funding from Canadian High Commissioner David Marshall on behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Officials said this -harmonised institutional support-, which extended from this year to 2012, -will provide CRNM with the necessary resources to continue and strengthen its work in researching, consulting, preparing and negotiating the region-s external trade agreements-.

Responding to questions from reporters, Gill said there were few -sticky areas-, adding that because negotiators representing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had learnt a lot from the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) discussions with Europe, he did not expect negotiations for a CARICOM/CANADA trade agreement to be drawn out.

However, he made it clear this all depended on the speed with which individual countries in the region coordinated their positions and gave mandates to teams negotiating on their behalf.

Additionally, Gill said one -problem area- could be the conflicting ways CARICOM and Canada approach services trade liberalisation.

 At the moment we are hoping to have the first negotiating session in October. Hoping I say because that depends on preparatory exercises by some countries that are not within the RNM-s power to control. But the agreement tentatively is that we will start in October,- the official said.

 We know that this is not going to be a long process like the EPA, but how short it-s going to be we don-t know. We are hoping that with proper preparation and so on we can move quickly, but that is all I can say at this point in time because as we move from step to step in our context it has to do with intense consultative process,- he added.

Gill reiterated CRNM officials -can-t move unless we have the mandates to move and those mandates are given in coordination meetings at both technical and ministerial level in the main-.

 So how smoothly that process works is left to be seen. One thing I can tell you in negotiations involving CARICOM or CARIFORUM with a third party the hardest part of the negotiations is not when you are at the table . . . it is our coordination among ourselves,- he noted.

The two partners have already agreed that the upcoming negotiations will cover a range of areas including market access for industrial and agricultural goods, services, investment, and innovation, the latter which Gill deemed -very important-.

He added that similar to the EPA with Europe it was hoped government procurement would be limited -to transparency roles, in other words it will not enter into the area of market access-.

 We will be dealing with competition. We are interested in the movement of natural persons, which itself could be part of services negotiations, but there are other aspects that could be quite different because we have labour programmes underway already with Canada. We will be entering into the area of trade and labour, trade and environment. As in most of these agreements there will be of course institutional aspects to the agreement, the institutional architecture of the agreement things like dispute settlement and so on,- according to him.

Under arrangement with CIDA, which was formalised yesterday, up to C$1 million in unallocated resources- will flow to CRNM this year.

This was expected to -provide for an enhanced programme of consultation, coordination and public engagement that will help the region further define and articulate its trading interests, as defined by the CARICOM Heads of Government-. This included the CARICOM/ Canada negotiations.