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Trade ministers look at Venezuelan, Canada requests for changes

Bert Wilkinson | 11/7/2013, 1:42 p.m.

Venezuela, the Caribbean Community’s closest South American ally, has formally written to regional governments asking them to review and upgrade a 20-year old trade limited agreement to now allow for full reciprocal two-way trade an announcement said this week

The issue was scheduled to be a key agenda item on the plate of a trade ministers meeting scheduled to take place in regional headquarters, Guyana this week. The two sides had way back in 1992 signed a partial scope trade agreement allowing a restricted number of products from the Caribbean to enter Venezuelan markets duty free or with reduced tariffs while Venezuela had agreed to do the same.

But Venezuelan authorities have now asked the region to consider a review of the arrangement after 20 years and to consider whether a normal two-way trade pact could be negotiated and signed in the coming months the bloc said.

But while this is the first time many of the governments attending the meeting will be hearing about the move from Caracas, insiders say it is likely to meet with lukewarm support from the nine-nation Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) because their smaller economies have little to export while an open, liberalized agreement will mean that Venezuelan goods could swamp their markets.

Relations between Venezuela and the region have grown to become very close in the past decade especially because of the 2005 PetroCaribe Initiative under which more than a dozen states get concession rate oil supplies from Venezuela and are allowed to repay over lengthy periods at low interest rates.

In the meantime, governments also have a second key international trade item on their agenda this week-this time to do with Canada.

Officials say that governments have asked Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller to write Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper telling Ottawa that its demands for one, and only one final session, to wrap up trade talks between the two sides is not enough as the region prefers negotiations be extended into the new year.

The two sides have since 2009 been negotiating a free trade deal to replace one one-way agreement under which goods ranging from gold, ethanol, food and shipments of other products enter Canada duty free under the decades-old CaribCan arrangement but this has been dubbed to be incompatible with trade liberalization rules by the World Trade Organization.

The Canadians have said that they are fed up after nearly five years and would prefer only final sit down to agree on the terms. Caricom says this is unacceptable and has so mentioned through the Jamaican head of government who is the subcommittee head of international negotiations. End/bw