Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What did CARICOM get from Canada?

By Ian Francis:

CARICOM Press Communiqué 98/2012 of April 16, 2012 under the caption “CARICOM lobbies Canada for G20 help” has caught my interest and curiosity, which warrants a Caribbean News Now Article on this critical issue.

It is important to state that my curiosity meant reading over the press communiqué several times in order to avoid criticisms from my analysis and response. Therefore, it is incumbent upon my part to address the content of the release in a chronological manner.

Paragraph one of the release highlighted that a meeting was held between the heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada. At the meeting, CARICOM heads requested Canada to continue the lobby to the G20 nations to focus on the plight of small vulnerable economies and highly indebted middle income countries. Harper nodded and maybe there is a reason why he opted for a non-verbal response.

Paragraph two lamented that it was the second meeting with a G20 nation, citing Mexico as the previous one. Again, there are no indicators as to how Mexico responded. Given the fact of increased drug trafficking, crime and lawlessness, human rights violation and recent natural disasters, one wonders if Mexico is seen as a reliable partner within the G20 community. Given this situation, it will be interesting to see future political development in Mexico and its relations with CARICOM states.

Paragraph three highlighted four topics that apparently consumed Prime Minister Harper’s time. These were 1) economic issues; 2) the ongoing negotiations for a trade and development agreement between the two sides, which it is believed is the CARIBCAN trade agreement; 3) security cooperation; and 4) an acknowledgement of the special relationship between Canada and CARICOM, which has existed for almost a century and described the relationship as “dynamic and evolving based on mutual respect and shared interests, from which the respective nations have benefitted.”

Paragraph four is very interesting as CARICOM states expressed appreciation to Canada for its assistance in advocating CARICOM’s views in a global forum such as the G20. Canada was asked to continue its advocacy role with even greater urgency, taking into consideration the seemingly endless global economic and financial woes that continue to wreak havoc on the small, vulnerable economies in the Community.

Paragraph five outlined an information sharing mechanism aimed at increasing Prime Minister Harper’s awareness about some of CARICOM initiatives. The prime minister was advised of CARICOM’s efforts to use its collective strengths to combat the challenges and secure the future through diverse measures. They emphasized the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) although they were not able to indicate its current status; establishment of CARICOM enterprises, which fell short of details even when the prime minister sought information about future participation by Canadian entrepreneurs; and, of course, they took the opportunity to express appreciation for the support provided to the CARICOM Secretariat through the CARICOM Trade and Competitive Project, which will likely integrate Haiti into the CSME.

Post Summit Perspective on the Canada-Caribbean Meeting:

The communiqué’s synopsis gives a clear indication about the Caribbean Community and Canada meeting. Once again, Canada should be commended for affording the opportunity to meet with a group of leaders who three months ago was unable to show guts by telling Venezuela and their misguided Latin nation allies that Canada should be invited to attend CELAC meeting in Caracas. They went along and joined the Latin pariah states in excluding Canada. In my view, Canada will always remain a friend of the Caribbean Community irrespective of their transience when El Presidente speaks.

The meeting with Canada demonstrated the show of regional collectivity, cooperation and leadership given by the CARICOM Secretariat. However, those who attended should understand that, although Prime Minister Harper was impressed by the show of solidarity, his briefing books and three ring binders would have indicated a totally different situation. So, Caribbean Community leaders, do not be fooled. The same applies to Mexico and the United States.

The Caribbean Community leaders who participated in the meeting need to clearly understand Canada’s role in the Caribbean. Traditionally, in the conduct of its foreign relations, Canada has always recognized the region as two distinct vantage points. Canada has traditionally maintained strong bilateral and multilateral cooperation with Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize and the Republic of Guyana. They have established diplomatic missions in each of these nations as well as strong cooperation agreements ranging from military to education.

What was previously known as the Windward and Leeward grouping, which is now the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Canada has opted to allow its High Commission in Barbados to handle OECS Affairs. There, OECS states must understand that, although Canada recognizes and understands the plight of the OECS, there are indeed preferential treatments to the five nations mentioned above. Unfortunately, OECS leaders have not spent the time to re-orient Canada’s strategy in the region. A clear indicator of OECS deficiencies is accepting the suggestions of a soon to be retired Canadian diplomatic official to close the OECS diplomatic mission in Ottawa as a cost containment effort. To many diplomatic observers, it is an extremely dumb move to close a vehicle that provided an OECS diplomatic presence in Ottawa. The decision to close the OECS diplomatic mission in Ottawa was ill-fated and many leaders are now privately expressing regrets at the decision made in St Vincent.

The Caribbean Community’s desire to see Canada continue lobby efforts with G20 countries is laughable and could be considered the greatest foreign affairs prank by the Caribbean Community on Canada. Why is it laughable? Many of the G20 nations have bilateral diplomatic relations with most of the independent nations that constitute the community. While the exchange of diplomatic personnel might be at a non-resident level, the mere fact that all community members have flourishing and active diplomatic missions at the United Nations and in Washington should provide them the opportunity to access G20 nations to discuss economic and vulnerability issues on a bilateral level rather than begging Canada to ensure that the regional economic plight is mentioned in the final communiqué of G20 meetings.

Three other issues caught my attention. These are: 1) Canada’s significant multilateral assistance to the CARICOM Secretariat to implement the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) program, and the inability of the Community leaders to give an accurate progress report on the status of the CSME to Harper; 2) Canada’s false belief that OECS nations’ economic problems can only be effectively resolved by plowing more multilateral assistance within the CARICOM Secretariat, knowing full well that such assistance is not impacting on daily conditions faced by the poor and disadvantaged; and 3) the OECS Caribbean Community leaders shortsightedness, and lack of an economic development bilateral strategy for presentation to Canada.

To conclude, I will not add any further comments about the revised CARIBCAN trade agreement. However, I am curious about what OECS nations will sell and market in Canada, as the Caribbean rum environment in Canada is very competitive.

So, personnel in OECS foreign ministries need to become more visionary and place less emphasis on the next foreign posting.
April 23, 2012