The seventh UK-Caribbean Forum was held under the theme “Prosperity Towards Sustainable Growth” and St. Kitts-Nevis Foreign Minister Sam Condor told reporters “the meeting was an exceptionally good one”.
He said the talks could be regarded as a “renewal and rebirth of the relationship” between the Caribbean and Britain.
Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister for the Caribbean, Jeremy Browne, described the deliberations as “fruitful and productive” noting that the talks ranged from economic to climate change as well as foreign policy matters.
A five-page “Final Action Plan” released after the meeting indicated that the meeting agreed to establish a new strategic partnership between the countries of the Caribbean and the United Kingdom “to promote prosperity and build economic resilience through the development of practical mechanisms which will enhance growth in investment, employment, production and trade opportunities to the benefit of the Caribbean and the UK”.
There was also an agreement to explore all avenues, including the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was signed between Europe and the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) countries in 2008 to improve access for Caribbean exports of goods and services to Britain.
Britain also agreed to assist he Caribbean improve food security and the “resilience of their food and agricultural sectors, through measures aimed at enhancing the efficiency of production and distribution systems and the economic security of producers”.
But the document noted that on the vexed issue of the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD), the meeting agreed “to continue dialogue…in the spirit of cooperation and in the context of the importance of tourism to the economic development of the Caribbean, with a view to assisting the region in mitigating any deleterious effects that the application of the APD may have on its economies”.
London late last year announced that the APD rates to Caribbean destinations will continue to be considerably higher than those to some competitor destinations.
The detailed tax tables show that the tax on economy long-haul flights of more than 6,000 miles will rise from £85 (US$132) to £92 (US$143) per person. The new measure goes into effect in April this year.
Condor told reporters that “we always have to be hopeful, this is a matter we are always looking for some adjustments on and we do not believe it is cast in stone.
“We are aware that the British government has their own fiscal responsibility to their own country (but) we believe that this is a new partnership, a new beginning which we hope to see a different attitude in how they relate to the Caribbean.
Condor said that during the talks Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said he understood the position of the region, adding “one of the points we were making is that as it is applied it (APD) is discriminatory and we hope that there will be an adjustment, not in the tax itself but how it is applied there will be some relief.
“We raised it, we understood what the foreign secretary said, but we could not do anything but raise it and to hope we will get a reaction and reply in terms of this.”
But Browne made it clear that the coalition in London would look at the issue again when it presents its annual budget next year.
“I think it is worth saying that of course we have an annual budget in Britain and that is when the decisions are made on levels of taxation and levels of spending. Nobody was expecting our budget to be written here at the Forum.
“But what it was a good opportunity to discuss the issue very frankly, the strength of the feeling was made very clear…and I have heard those representations elsewhere by High Commissioners in London and the British Foreign Secretary understood those concerns.
“We will continue to review all our taxes on an annual basis. I am not in a position here to give any substantial promise on this issue. We have a very difficult budget situation in Britain..and countries across Europe many have even harder budget situations than us, we are running a very big deficit and there are a number of unpopular taxes in Britain…and we are not in a position where we have the flexibilities to remove sources of revenue,” he told reporters.
The meeting also agreed to the develop this year, “effective coordination mechanism to help take forward our partnership in the fight against drugs and international crime, including through the establishment of a UK-Caribbean Expertise Exchange Mechanism to promote best practices on security issues across the region”.
There was also agreement to establish with the “full collaboration of the United States, a regional network of land-based law enforcement units trained and equipped to a common standard.
“These units would provide a fully interoperable regional resource to conduct land based surveillance and interdiction operations”.
The ministers also agreed to remain “engaged in negotiations to conclude an Arms Trade Treaty in 2012 and for the successful outcome of the Review Conference of the UN Plan of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.”
On the issue of climate change, there was agreement o collaborate closely on climate change issues, “recognising that current business as usual trends are likely to lead to catastrophic climate change, including warming, since the pre-industrial period of four degrees centigrade or more.
“Preventing this is an imperative we share,” the ministers said.