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Caribbean leaders to meet. reparations on agenda

Bert Wilkinson | 7/2/2014, 11:06 a.m.

Plans by Caribbean community leaders to make Europe pay for reparations for the African slave trade, stalled free trade talks with Canada and a progress report on the overhaul of the 15-nation integration movement will be among key agenda items when heads of government meet in the Eastern Caribbean island nation of Antigua this week.

Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne who won general elections three weeks ago with a landslide victory will chair the four-day meeting that was scheduled to begin late Tuesday.

As is usually the case, the summit has been preceded by a series of high level meetings including one involving trade trade ministers who met at the weekend in a bid to iron out stalled negotiations with Canada as well as foreign ministers who were slated to meet as the week began ahead of the main plenary sessions that begin on Wednesday. The summit will begin start Tuesday night’s formal opening ceremony of speeches, cultural presentations and cocktails. Plenaries were due to begin Wednesday and run until late Friday.

The bloc said that trade ministers were unable to come up with recommendation to resolve the impasse with Canada after five years of talks and now hope that leaders could find a way to break the deadlock in the coming weeks. Officials say this is the last line of hope for a situation that has dragged on incessantly since 2009.

To break the deadlock, outgoing bloc chairman Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent had written Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking for a meeting with him to deal with the issue but no date has as yet been set, leading to angry speculation that negotiations could be abandoned altogether.

Officials said that various countries have different positions on the talks with the main fear being that many of the countries have little to export, little interest in two-way free trade and would be swamped by cheaper Canadian goods entering a duty free system, hence their lukewarm approach to negotiations.

Meanwhile, the prime ministerial sub-grouping on reparations that is led by Freundel Stuart of Barbados is expected to brief leaders on the state of play and to present a draft letter of demand for payment to Britain, The Netherlands and other nations later in July.

The bloc said that leaders are also to review a report on a strategic plan drawn up two years ago on restructuring operations of the community to “move it forward and reignite the flames of regional integration.” A session with Spanish Prime Minister Mariono Rajoy Brey is scheduled for Wednesday. End/bw