CARICOM considers FTA with US, Canada

The Nassau Guardian

21 January 2005

CARICOM considers FTA with U.S., Canada

By MARTELLA MATTHEWS, Guardian Business Reporter

As the outlook for the Free Trade Area of the Americas continues to be shrouded in uncertainty, CARICOM is looking to bilateral Free Trade Agreements as a means of improving market access for countries in the region.

Following the lead of several South and Central American countries which have, or are in the process of signing FTAs with the United States, CARICOM is beginning to see this as the most immediate option for creating new markets for Caribbean goods and services.

In its January news release, the publication arm of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery, RNM Update, stated that bilateral trade deals with the United States are being aggressively sought after and negotiated.

In view of the current state of inactivity that has gripped FTAA negotiations for the past 11 months, the CRNM saw this alternative as the "preferred approach" for engaging the U.S. market.

Director General of the CRNM, Dr Richard Bernal was quoted in a recent interview with Dow Jones Newswires as affirming a plan by CARICOM to approach Washington about a separate trade deal should the impasse in FTAA continues for much longer.

In addition to securing more access to its chief trading partner, the United States, CARICOM is also looking to sign FTAs with other countries in the hemisphere, to further improve market access for regional countries.

According to RNM Update, signing an FTA with Canada is also at the top of its agenda. Describing Canada as another important trade and investment partner for the region, CRNM revealed that two-way merchandise trade with the North American country totaled CDN$1.2 billion in 2002. Bilateral services trade was estimated at CDN$2.28 billion based on 2000 statistics.

Talks of a possible FTA with Canada began in 2001 at the Sixth Canada-CARICOM summit. But this was recently reaffirmed to the region after Canada conducted a review of its bilateral trade initiatives. A meeting is planned for February, to discuss modalities for the negotiations, which are expected to be launched in the second quarter of 2005.

CARICOM is also looking at forming FTAs with its southern neighbours. RNM Update reported exploratory talks between CARICOM and Mercosur concerning this possibility. A technical session between the two groups is planned for February in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. This session will serve as the first exchange of trade information between the two.

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source: Nassau Guardian