Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, has called for relations between CARICOM member states and non-English-speaking countries in the Caribbean and Latin America to be strengthened.
Speaking during a panel discussion on ‘Challenges and Opportunities in the Caribbean’ at the sixth International Monetary Fund (IMF) High Level Caribbean Forum in Jamaica on November 16, he said that he believed that the region stands to obtain significant benefits from stronger relations between CARICOM and other regional countries including the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
Noting that while Jamaica remained a “big proponent” of full Caribbean integration, he said that Jamaica was now actively pursuing a policy of outreach and engagement with the Spanish-speaking countries within the region.
“There is a huge market in Latin America, which Jamaica has to tap into… and I think the rest of the Caribbean has to do the same. For us, I think there is greater advantage with us reaching out,” he added. While acknowledging that “language is a barrier”, Mr Holness maintained that “it is in our interest that we have the policies to support our people speaking a second language, in particular Spanish and French”.
His sentiments were echoed by other panellists including the Grenadian Prime Minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, and the Bahamian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Peter Turnquest. In other remarks to the IMF led meeting, Jamaica’s Prime Minister called for significant improvements in the mobility of capital, goods and services, and labour, within CARICOM, rather than its continuing focus on the free movement of goods.
Placing this in the context of recent hurricanes he said: “How will these economies recover if there is not a mechanism to allow free movement of labour, even temporarily, to help in the recovery and relief efforts …. It is in this capacity that our respective economies and countries have to open our societies, open our schools, that will give us, collectively, the ability to respond to disasters and crises.”
In his remarks he also referred to an official visit he made in May to the Dominican Republic at which time he agreed to develop a bilateral agenda ‘with a view to seeking convergence in positions that address regional and international issues of mutual interest’ and ‘consolidating’ their relationship.
The two countries’ position was set out in a joint declaration at the end of his visit, the first in 34 years by a Jamaican Prime Minister.
Although not yet formally announced it is expected that the Dominican President Danilo Medina will visit Jamaica in the week beginning November 27, in part to participate in an international conference on ‘Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism’ organised by the Government of Jamaica, the World Bank, and the UN World Tourism Organisation Group Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism.
While the conference is expected to issue a political declaration setting out tourism’s centrality to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is also expected to provide an opportunity to deepen Dominican-Jamaican relations.
As a pragmatist, Mr Holness now appears to be seeking the best value for Jamaica by integrating its economy with others in the region while seeking changes in CARICOM rules that might accelerate inter-regional growth.
He is known to have been interested for some time in deepening trade relations with the larger economies at the northern end of the Caribbean and has expressed in private significant reservations about CARICOM. In this context he commissioned a review of Jamaica’s relations with CARICOM under the Chairmanship of a former JLP Prime Minister, Bruce Golding. The document, which is understood to make far reaching recommendations, has however yet to see the light of day.
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