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CARICOM is looking to forge closer economic ties with Latin America, a move, which Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Hon. Dr. Kenneth Baugh says, could provide greater opportunities for Jamaican businesses and spur social and economic growth.
According to Dr. Baugh, the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean economically and in trade, offers the opportunity for Jamaica to cater to a larger marketplace.
He argues that exploring new marketplaces will create better prospects for local industries and the economy overall. “This will ultimately increase opportunities for employment, export and revenue as we export our goods in these larger markets,” he says.
According to Minister Baugh, several Latin American countries are “bearing down on the door of Jamaica” to do business. These include the Dominican Republic, which has applied for membership to CARICOM, Costa Rica, Columbia and Panama.
He says that the gathering of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the hemisphere at the Rose Hall Resort and Spa in Montego Bay St. James in early November provided the country with the perfect platform for exploring several avenues towards strengthening ties with its Latin American neighbours.
At the conference, which attracted some 34 Foreign Ministers from the hemisphere, Jamaica’s application to become a member of the RIO Group was approved.
Founded in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1986, the Rio Group has, as its objective, the creation of a regional mechanism for dialogue and concerted political agreement. Jamaica shares the group’s commitment to the preservation of peace, the promotion of democratic values, respect for the rule of law and the fostering of multilateralism.
Beginning with only a core membership of six, the group continues to seek a common foreign policy position for its members, which include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.
Dr. Baugh tells JIS News that the meeting in Montego Bay in no way rivalled the importance of CARICOM, rather, it complemented it.
He says the assembly was “long overdue” and came about at the request of Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, when he went to a meeting of Heads of Government in Brazil in 2008, and offered to host the meeting as a preparatory step to a summit of Heads in Mexico in 2010. “So, this is CARICOM integrating with Latin America. This is long overdue in this hemisphere,” he states.
He informs that, already, a number of CARICOM countries have arrangements with Spanish-speaking countries, for example, Guyana is working with MERCOSUR, which is the “Common Market of the South,” and the largest trading bloc in South America.
MERCOSUR’s primary interest is to eliminate obstacles to regional trade, like high tariffs, income inequalities, or conflicting technical requirements for bringing products to market.
Dr. Baugh, who is Chairman of the CARICOM Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) and the official CARICOM representative to the RIO Group, says economic co-operation between CARICOM and the region is definitely achievable.
“I am anticipating the formation of a Latin American and Caribbean group eventually absorbing North America and that would be good for us because then you’re talking about a marketplace of maybe a billion people. It can only help Jamaica and the Caribbean if we become a part of this,” he notes.
It is therefore incumbent on Jamaican producers and manufacturers to begin retooling their operations in order to take advantage of the opportunities when they become available.
“Doing so would definitely turn around the trade imbalance where Jamaica exports only about US$66 million in intra-CARICOM trade, while importing some US$1.66 billion,” Dr. Baugh states, noting that Trinidad and Tobago has already re-tooled its industries and is reaping the benefits.
He also points to the need for the people of the Caribbean, especially Jamaicans, to re-certify themselves, learn Spanish and be ready to take advantage of the opportunities the hemispheric agreements will bring.

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