Op-Ed: Canadian Sen. Don Meredith on the Canada-CARICOM Free Trade Deal

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - December 13, 2011

By Hon. Dr Don Meredith, Senator
Op-Ed Contributor

Canada and CARICOM are on the verge of forging new economic ties through a timely and well-needed free trade agreement.

As a Jamaican who immigrated to Canada and is now serving in the Senate, it is my priority to see that both countries realize their economic potential.

In the past, relations between Canada and members of the Caribbean Community focused heavily on aid, but through this free trade agreement, nations of the Caribbean can take important steps towards standing shoulder to shoulder with nations like Canada as equal partners.

In November, I attended the CARICOM-Canada Trade and Development Forum in Mississauga, Ontario. What I have seen is that members of the Caribbean diplomatic corps in Canada are ready to move this agreement forward. With recent leadership changes in the region, including my homeland of Jamaica, I believe the time is ripe for a new agreement that will bring sustainable economic development to the Caribbean and new opportunities for Canadian businesses.

Many people know me as a pastor and youth advocate, but I am also an entrepreneur. Twenty years ago, I started a company that is still in operation today. Through my own experience, I have seen that entrepreneurship plays a key role in economic development and job creation. Free trade with a market like Canada can create opportunities for both Canadian and Caribbean firms.

I will add that it is time that our youth in the region are provided with all the opportunities their leadership can provide them. This would lead to reducing unemployment rates and dealing with the gross under-employment that exists in the region. Canadian jobs will also be created in various sectors across the country.

The world is increasingly taking notice of the Caribbean and, as a result, firms in the region must increasingly think and compete globally. Not only do I urge firms in the region to do business in Canada, but I also urge firms in Canada, especially those owned by members of the Caribbean diaspora, to do business in the Caribbean. Many of us left home decades ago for a better life abroad, and now that we are seeing the fruit of those decisions, it is time to create jobs and other opportunities back home.

I have met with Canadian officials as well as CARICOM Heads of Mission and I believe, more than ever, that Canada is poised to help the Caribbean region transition to a more developed state. There is a great willingness in the private sector on both sides to see this move forward, and key partners in the region are eager to get the agreement done.

The Caribbean has been blessed with the best weather in the world, lush vegetation, bountiful natural resources, and a strong work ethic. After many years of setbacks, like colonization and slavery, Caribbean nations are emerging as centres of entrepreneurship and innovation.

There is a major shift going on in the world as we speak. The playing field is slowly being levelled and I am convinced that our greatest days are ahead for Canada and CARICOM. As once-powerful nations like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Japan face major challenges, now is the time for markets with natural synergies like Canada and the Caribbean to move forward and assert themselves on the world stage.

For the Caribbean, this time will require a balance of looking inward at the assets and resources that lie within the regional community and looking outward into the global community for opportunities to commercialize these assets and resources for the betterment of Caribbean people.

Not only is entrepreneurship key for the Caribbean Community, but unity and integration will be essential. A principle of life is that in the place of unity anything is possible. Now is the time to pool your resources, put your heads together, and present CARICOM to the world as a stable and fair place to do business.

Canada’s story is one from which the Caribbean can draw much inspiration. A group of separate British colonies found a way to come together as a single, larger and more prosperous unit. Canada paints a picture of what an integrated Caribbean Community can achieve economically and politically.

The history of commerce between Canada and Caribbean nations is rich and well-documented. In the banking sector, some Caribbean islands like the Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados and Jamaica had branches of the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Royal Bank of Canada before some Canadian cities. These branches helped to facilitate the trading of fish, rum, sugar, cotton and spices.

In the food and beverage industry early Newfoundland fishermen used to trade salt fish for Jamaican rum, so much so that salt fish became a part of Jamaica’s national dish and rum became the traditional drink of Newfoundlanders.

New France, which included modern Québec, Acadia, Newfoundland and Hudson Bay, also conducted much trade with the French colonies in the Caribbean including Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Tobago, Saint Lucia, and Dominica, trading grain for sugar, coffee, and cotton.

Canada-CARICOM trade in banking, fish, rum and sugar has matured over the past century, but there are new opportunities before us in renewable energy, computing, clean technology and software development that have the potential to frame a profitable and vibrant relationship for the next century.

You and I, and those to whom we are connected, have the power to make this happen. If we do, the next one hundred years of commerce between Canada and the Caribbean will see more prosperity, more growth, and above all, mutual respect.

Hon. Dr Don Meredith is the Member of the Canadian Senate for Ontario.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

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