Representatives from the United Kingdom (UK) and the Caribbean have agreed to establish a UK/Caribbean Expertise Exchange Mechanism, to further collaborate in the fight against drugs and international crime.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. A.J. Nicholson, who was speaking in the Senate on February 10, revealed that the agreement came out of talks at the 7th UK/Caribbean Forum, held in St. Georges, Grenada, from January 20 to 22.
Senator Nicholson, who attended the meeting along with Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting, and other Ministry officials, informed that the forum encouraged very frank and extensive discussions on crime and security.
He noted that the discussions produced positive results, including a further commitment from the UK to assist the region in addressing youth crime, gangs and violence, and to enhance the capacity of the juvenile justice system in the Caribbean.
“There was recognition that the fight against transnational organised crime must involve other partners and so there was agreement to establish, with the full collaboration of the United States, a regional network of land-based law enforcement units to conduct land-based surveillance and interdiction operations,” Senator Nicholson said.
Meanwhile, in the area of trade and investment, the Minister said that special attention was paid to support for the private sector, with particular emphasis on small and medium sized enterprises.
There was agreement on the need to improve access for Caribbean goods and services to the European Union, including a marked reference to the implementation of the Cariforum/EU Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was signed in 2008, the Minister said.
“An important point for the Caribbean was that our classification as middle-income countries should not ignore our vulnerability to indigenous, exogenous shocks and natural disasters, our limited human, technical and financial resources and the fact that many of us are highly indebted,” he noted.
“We were encouraged that the UK agreed that it will engage the Caribbean prior to the G20 and Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) meetings, in order to have a better understanding and appreciation of our peculiar concerns, with a view to having decisions taken by those bodies take account of our special circumstances,” Mr. Nicholson said.
On the matter of Climate Change, he said the UK recognised the region’s strong voice on the issue and there was an agreement to collaborate closely in international fora.
“We therefore pledged to work together to secure an agreement by 2015 for enhanced action on a comprehensive global agreement,” he said.
Efforts will also be made to develop a long term strategy on energy security for the region, with an emphasis on renewable energy and green technology, the Minister informed.
He said Caribbean Foreign Ministers also used the opportunity to raise the contentious issue of the UK Air Passenger Duty (APD), which threatens the Caribbean tourism industry.
“We stressed the discriminatory nature of the APD and once again called for the equitable application of the duty. We were able to secure a pledge from the UK for continued dialogue on the issue, as well as assistance in mitigating any deleterious effects that the application of the APD may have on the economies of the region,” the Minister said.
Foreign Secretary of the UK, William Hague, gave the undertaking that the Coalition Government in the UK would examine the issue again when it presents its annual budget next financial year, Senator Nicholson said.
The Forum, which was held under the theme: ‘Sustainable Growth Toward Prosperity’, saw delegates engaging in wide ranging and frank discussions on major areas of co-operation, trade and investment, security, climate change and sustainable development, and foreign policy issues.
Jamaica’s delegation, which was led by Minister Nicholson, also included Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting; Acting Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Vilma McNish; and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Security, Dianne McIntosh.
The UK delegation was led by Mr. Hague, and included Ministers from the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for International Development, security officials, and members of the private sector. The group represented the largest and highest Ministerial delegation to the Caribbean in a number of years.
The two-day forum is considered the principal vehicle for political dialogue between the UK and the countries of the region, including Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter