BY David Jordan
Will the imposition of visa restrictions cause Caricom and Canada relations to stray? The answer is anyone’s guess and that depends on the perspectives of how Caribbean governments view the importance of Canada to the region. Canada has enjoyed a long period of diplomatic relations with the region. St Lucia first traded bananas with Canada in 1901.
And now, St Kitts, in the OECS and four Members of the Caricom Grouping are formally announced as being exempt from visa restrictions on entry to Canada. Does that not sound a similar tune to the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU? But this comes in the middle of an arduous pursuit of negotiations of a Caricom Canada Trade and Development which apparently has no timeline. The Canadians, obviously have interests to conclude this deal, with the territories of the Caribbean within a reasonable time. But the apparent issues of importance of beneficial trade may be just one factor in the minds of bureaucrats and politicians in the region who pursue this initiative. While this may be one person’s viewpoint, I do recall at a major meeting attended by both the private sector and public sector officials that a private sector official said “there was no point treating this as a priority”. Obviously referring to the access to air and sea transport and the volume of trade which that private sector official sought to explain. And at the same time oblivious to the number of Canadian banks in the region, at the time that provide support for others who trade in goods and services and the many nationals who receive remittances from Canada.
The Canadians have vouched for a more regional approach to development assistance and the 600 million dollars earmarked for the region is being advocated with this regional cooperation bias. The change in political administration remain consistent in their policy. The region in the OECS has benefited significantly and bilaterally from the benevolence of successive Canadian governments e.g. infrastructure— airports, education and schools, Banking—several Canadian banks are established in the region. This new arrangement seems to offer less and only the more aggressive and astute, will reap the benefits.
Does that mean there is a change of policy by the Canadian Government to the region? Or is it the administrative social issues of false (fake) claims for asylum, lack of proper administrative controls e.g. of issuance of passports and tampering of the said passports, to quote “unreliability”?
Is it the ultimate cost on its own taxpayers that has caused the ire of the Canadians?
But one recalls the several announced and even unannounced visits (learned of later in recent times) by ranking Canadian politicians and diplomats to the region. Even a Canadian deputy Foreign Minister, toured the region to assess the state of receptivity for the trade agreement among other things. Some involved assessing the importance of the elements of the currently ongoing trade negotiations. Exchanges have been mounted between the regional private sector to Canada. Some countries even have extradition treaties which can be invoked in cases of where infractions are committed. Some bilateral exchange agreements have also been reviewed.
So it is clear that the representation has been relentless. It must be logical therefore to assume that there are problems of varying nature which would have been disclosed behind closed walls. Can it be said there are varying levels of cooperation exhibited at the diplomatic levels by the countries in addressing the ills and problems claimed by the Canadians and are associated with the countries which now are faced with reprisals for not complying?
Thus those who are of greater social risks should pay the price for their lack of cooperation and receptivity to the Canadian government’s concerns. Or is it justifiably so? Not responding to diplomatic mail from a country is a serious diplomatic sacrilege if not an affront and countries take this seriously. Are those countries placed in this new situation of being guilty of these charges? Some of these issues will now need to be explained to the general public by the politicians—as the respective countries suffer and the euphoria of political blame arises, from this new immigration policy measure.
Canada does not need to, nor as a matter of fact any country need to alert any other country, months in advance of any policy measure. But these need to be always conducted and exercised within strains of national and multilateral interests on the agenda of countries—bilaterally or multilaterally so as to guard their economic interests and to succor to their friends when convenient.
Timing is always critical and that is why diplomats are posted in foreign countries to monitor the likely changes in policy before they occur and also to assess the impact on respective countries and to inform their capitals. The untimely downgrade or upgrade or closure of diplomatic institutions, certainly tells stories and leaves speculation by the general public. Within the OECS, it has been subject of a recent institutional posture and stance during last year. But it is always the politicians and diplomats that know and influence these matters.
But exercise of this type of diplomacy and politics is nothing new. This could be closely akin to the recent Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe. Some countries were denied access to Europe via entry to certain states; visa restrictions were imposed and further other administrative arrangements, including confirmed abode and hotel reservations had to be announced; travel insurance had to be adopted. One of the major reasons, advanced then was the issue of social risks and the costs imposed on the state and the need to adopt new immigration policy. A new visa policy was announced without notice similarly. Thereafter diplomatic intervention was launched to cause at least some reprieve to enable the exemption of those of high political office—politicians then diplomats.
Subsequently the matter was better clarified uniformly by member states that were enunciating the new policy. For the Schengen visa approach, seen then as an imposing new barriers to trade the matter was tackled and after several years properly clarified and instituted in some cases redressed. The Canadians, guardedly have already outlined all administrative requirements, seemingly learning from the recent experience of the Europeans. Does that leave room for negotiation?
The question being asked is whether this is similarly patterned by virtue of experience, though the circumstances are not too very different? Would there be a similar undertaking to clarify that visa policy matter and will a diplomatic initiative be pursued by the Governments of the region? Or even better, would we the citizens of the region, see a greater unity of purpose of CARICOM and the OECS Union, in stating whatever is meted out to my brother and sister is meted out to me
. . . and that the politicians will take the responsibility and orchestrate a demarche further while addressing the several mounting issues which the Canadians see as social and security risks? Can we stick together as a region? As a sub-region? Should it not be so? Because it is obvious, if we are part of a Common Market or Union. Why should one country be singled out for preferential treatment and other experience new imposition of barriers that will impact on trade, a change on the goal post in negotiations and factors that can influence and change the face of the Canadian relations in the region?
The Conclusion of the Trade Agreement may well be at risk of not getting the signatures of the entire region.
Note: David Jordan is the Deputy Leader of the Global Diplomatic Foundation (headquartered in the UK with its Caribbean Offices in St Lucia).