BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced plans yesterday to launch free trade negotiations between Canada and the 15 nations of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking to a business group during the second-to-last stop of his four nation Americas tour, Mr. Harper said a free trade pact between Canada and Caricom would complement measures for more economic integration under way within the Caribbean and would help enrich the region. "I know there is some skepticism within the region about free trade," Mr. Harper said. "But frankly, there is no better way to boost living standards over the long term."
Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur said that the Caribbean and Canada need a modern free trade pact that includes services, an investment chapter and a dispute-settlement mechanism, all of which are missing from the limited trade deal now in force.
Mr. Harper earlier met with the heads of government of nine Caricom members to discuss the trade talks. Caricom's secretary-general, Edwin Carrington, said he hopes the negotiations can lead to the signing of a free trade deal with Canada within two years. Speaking with reporters, he said that over the past decade Canada has not been focusing sufficiently on its relations with the Caribbean and added that he hopes Mr. Harper's new interest in the region will bear fruit.