Canadian Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, made a renewed call yesterday for his country and CARICOM to sign a free trade agreement with mutual benefits for both signatories.
The Canadian Prime Minister said that while there are concerns about proceeding with a free trade agreement at this time, with the impact of the global recession, Canada was committed to the principle of mutual benefits.
“There is no time like a crisis to seek out new opportunities, and Canada is committed to the principle that a new trade agreement between us must confer mutual benefits,” he said.
Mr. Harper made the appeal as he created history, being the first Canadian Prime Minister to address a Joint Meeting of the Jamaican Houses of Parliament, at Gordon House on April 20.
Canadian Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper (foreground), addresses a joint meeting of the Houses of Parliament today (April 20) at Gordon House. Looking on is Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Delroy Chuck.
He arrived in Jamaica on Sunday (April 19) for a two-day working visit. He had travelled to Kingston with Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding following last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He will be holding bilateral talks with Mr. Golding on a range of issues, including the global economic crisis and negotiations on the Canada/CARICOM free trade agreement until he departs Tuesday afternoon for home.
“The Canada CARICOM free trade agreement will be a powerful expression of our collective will to keep borders open and pursue meaningful economic development, and it will build on the long history of trade between us,” Mr. Harper declared.
He said that the time was right for the agreement, and Jamaica was uniquely positioned to lead the way to ensure that CARICOM is a full part of the hemispheric and global economic system.
“Canada’s commitment is clear; we are providing financial support and technical assistance to ensure that our negotiating partners are on a level playing field. We are helping small and medium size businesses to develop the skills and technology they need to compete in our free trade future,” Mr. Harper said.
“Let us resolve today to cut through the bureaucratic, diplomatic and political red tape and move forward on a Canada/CARICOM free trade agreement. Let’s get it done,” he urged.
Mr. Harper noted that at the Summit of the Americas, Canada had announced doubling its “callable capital subscription” to the Inter-American Development Bank(IDB), to increase the bank’s lending capacity by US$4 billion.
Referring to the long and close relationship between both countries, he said that their cultural, social and economic bonds have reduced the distance between them.
He stated that both countries have an obligation to do whatever they can to protect their citizens from the consequences of the current recession.
He noted that the recent G20 meeting in London England had achieved consensus on what needed to be done to overcome the crisis, and ensure it never happens again.
Mr. Harper said that Canada has already taken unilateral action, during the recession, to reduce tariffs and wanted to ensure that its “traditional friends of the Caribbean” remain at the forefront of trading relations.
“Jamaicans have the character to excel at anything they put their minds to and, because of these cultural, social and economic bonds, the distance between us grows ever smaller and they represent a strong foundation to do even more together, a foundation to address the challenges and to seize the opportunities that lie before us today,” Mr. Harper said.
Prime Minister Golding, in welcoming Mr. Harper, noted that Jamaica has enjoyed formal diplomatic relations with Canada since 1962.
“Canada has remained a major trading partner for Jamaica ever since. When in 1966 we took the decision to establish our own national airline, we sought a partner and we found that partner in Air Canada, and they helped us to establish that airline on a sound footing,” Mr. Golding recalled.
The Prime Minister said that Jamaica has enjoyed, with Canada, many bilateral assistance programmes, especially through the Canadian International Development Agency(CIDA). Canada has assisted in areas such as the Justice Reform Programme, development of new agricultural practices and national security.
Jamaica also participates in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers programme, an organised labour mobility programme, which allows for the entry of foreign workers to meet the temporary seasonal needs of Canadian agricultural producers.
Leader of the Opposition, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller also welcomed the Canadian Prime Minister to Jamaica.
She noted that Canada has been a reassuring voice to Jamaica and the region in discussions with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and has represented the region, at the board level, displaying sensitivity to their problems.
Mr. Harper also visited the Jamaica Military Air School, which receives funding from the Canadian Government, and met with Jamaican/Canadian business leaders at a working luncheon. He also participated in a signing ceremony for the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST) project.