Call for united CARICOM stance

By Philomena Robertson

NEW YORK, USA, October 30, 2006 – Jamaica’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Delano Franklyn has called for a united CARICOM position on the US’ ‘passport rule,’ which is set to become effective on January 8, 2006 for American air travelers to the Caribbean, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico and Central and South America.

Speaking exclusively to HardBeatNews during a weekend visit to New York, Franklyn said while it is easy to understand that the new travel regulations or the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative as it is called, are “inevitable because one cannot ignore that the primary driving force is increasing security, it is not fair to implement it in the manner proposed.”

Franklyn said that while “U.S has the capacity to make the necessary adjustment” lawmakers are not likely to respond to individual calls. And is urging that there be a united CARICOM push on the issue.

Especially since he said the measure is “extremely disadvantageous” to Caribbean countries. Franklyn also cited a need for more dialogue and greater understanding of the implications of the new law and appealed to US lawmakers to understand that the new law will be detrimental to “developing countries, whose economies, in some cases 60-70 percent depend very heavily on tourism.”

Looking specifically at the potential impact on his country, the senator, who was in the Big Apple this past weekend for a meeting with members of the Jamaican Diaspora, said, “If implemented as proposed, (the rule) will have very serious implications for the Jamaican economy, which to a large extent depends on tourism.”

According to Franklyn, “Seventy-five percent of Jamaica’s tourists come out of the US” and the majority of those he says travel by air. The Jamaican government minister says any anomaly in this situation will have “serious implications for Jamaica.”

At issue is the phased introduction of the new rule, passed by the U.S. Congress on September 29th, that will require Americans traveling by air to have a valid passport to re-enter the US come January next year while cruise passengers will have until 2009 to comply with the same regulation.

Jamaican and its Caribbean neighbors are very concerned about the potential impact of the new passport rule given the fact that less than one-fifth of the U.S population has a valid passport. To date, a lobbying effort slated for Washington by several Caribbean tourism officials and their partners, has been put on hold until after the Nov. 7th election.

Meanwhile, a Senior State Department advisor on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative recently told HBN that there’s probably no real cause for concern because Americans seem quite aware of the new requirement, evidenced by the significant increase in the number of passport applications being submitted weekly.

However, Franklyn says even so, “That’s just a drop in the bucket” and it could take the US several years to provide every American with a passport.

Questioning what tourism dependent countries are expected to do in the meantime, Franklyn observed that potential Caribbean visitors who lack the necessary documentation will likely turn to alternative destinations where they will not need a passport for re-entry to the US. (