US vice president and CARICOM leaders hold "frank and cordial" talks

Peter Richards

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday May 29, 2013 – United States Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday held “frank and cordial” talks with Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders and pledged Washington’s assistance on a wide range of issues affecting the socio-economic development of the of the 15-member regional grouping.

“I want to thank you all for the important discussions…but more importantly for the frankness and directness we were able to engage in. It was completely open, completely frank and completely straightforward even where we disagreed,” said Bid, who wrapped up a 21-hour visit here as part of a tri-nation tour of South America and the Caribbean.

“That’s how friends should treat friends and we need you” he said, adding that he hoped Washington would be able to play a part in the overall development of the region.

CARICOM Chairman and Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, described the talks at the Diplomatic Centre on the outskirts of the capital “as a great success” adding “we have come out from a very frank but cordial conversation with the Vice President.

“We believe that today’s discussions further strengthen the relationship between the Caribbean and the United States. It would no doubt help the United States articulate clearly its policy towards the Caribbean which would provide an over aching framework for the relationship and cooperation.

“The Caribbean took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of its sustainable development growth and the need for the United States to partner with the region in achieving this, “Martelly said, noting that trade is important in facilitating such growth “and we stressed the importance of trade being conducted on a level playing field and respect for the rules established by the World Trade Organization (WTO)”.

Martelly, who together with Biden signed a trade investment framework agreement (TIFA) to galvanise trade and investment activities between the two sides and within CARICOM, said the regional leaders called on Washington “ to engage early and meaningfully with CARICOM countries with a view to addressing in a sympathetic manner the region’s concern with regards to rum and internet gaming”.

CARICOM countries have said in the past that they countries say they will continue to oppose subsidies being granted to UK-based Diageo, one of the world’s biggest producers of rum, because of the impact the subsidy is having on rum producers in the region, while Antigua and Barbuda continues to haggle with Washington to abide by the WTO ruling in its favour on internet gaming.

Biden said his visit here at the request of President Barack Obama was aimed at further strengthening relations with the Caribbean.

‘Our search for growth, jobs, and affordable supplies of energy, our fight against trans-national crime and the protection of our climate and environment, all of these issues have no respect for borders and they affect all of our borders,” he said.

He economically, Washington is aware of the difficulties faced by the Caribbean, with the cost of doing business being much higher than in other parts of the hemisphere.

He said through the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), Washington has eliminated tariffs on 85 per cent of goods from the region entering the United States “and now we are looking for additional ways and we discussed some of them today, to help create growth and diversity in the economies within the Caribbean”.

He described the TIFA “as a vehicle that would overcome special specific practical barriers to trade and investment and accommodate those changes as rapidly as possible.

“Our goals are not simply growth but it is growth that reaches everybody and we spoke today from poverty measures to support for small businesses to greater opportunities for all citizens regardless of their gender and their sexual orientation”.

“We will continue to invest with you on education and innovation,” he said, quoting his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, an educator as remarking that “any country that out educate you will out compete you”.

He said the meeting also discussed “some novel areas in what we can do more than we are doing now, because that’s how we will succeed in the 21st century.

Biden said efforts were also underway to link Diaspora business leaders with the Caribbean entrepreneurs and that the meeting also discussed ways to lower costs of energy with emphasis on renewable energy.

“There is probably no group of nations better situated to take advantage of renewable energy possibilities than here in the Caribbean,” Biden said, adding that many regional countries pay at least three time more for energy that in the United States.

He said Washington is working with other countries on developing renewable energy.

On the issue of security, Biden said he made it clear to the regional leaders that Washington approaches “this as a shared responsibility”.

He said the meeting discussed the need for more resources, more inputs from the United States “because the truth is …we were so successful collectively in decades of the 80’s and 90’s that the preferred route to get to the United States from South America of cocaine, and some heroin and other products was not longer through the Caribbean but through the Isthmus and Central America.

“Now because of the significant initiatives we have with our Central American friends, the concern is legitimately served by many is that it may move back into the Caribbean and on a greater scale than they exist now”.

Biden said that Washington has invested US$30 billion in reducing drug demands adding “that as other nations in the hemisphere make strides against drug trafficking,  the threat may increasingly shift back to the Caribbean”.

He said the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative was launched in 2009 to deal with the situation and despite tight economic situations in the United States “we are increasing our investment which already stands at over US$200 million”.

Both Biden and Martelly said that the issue of immigration had also been discussed with the US Vice President saying that the Obama administration understood the importance of getting migrants who have contributed to the development of the country and who represent a source of meaningful financial assistance to relatives back home, properly documented. (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)