Dominica, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are among a select few Island countries that have inked Schengen visa waiver Agreements with the European Union at a signing ceremony in Brussels.

This significant step in the relationship between the Eastern Caribbean and the EU and its Member States signals a renewed step toward greater people-to-people contact, travel to initiate greater trade and investment flows as well as increased tourism between both regions.

Dominica’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and CARICOM Affairs, Honourable Francine Baron noted that the freer travel between both regions is a “significant development as it reflects the confidence and comfort that the EU has in Dominica.” She also noted its relevance given the closer integration with French Overseas Regions (ORs)in the Eastern Caribbean.

Signing the agreement on behalf of the Government of Saint Lucia was the Honourable Minister for External Affairs, Alva Baptiste who welcomed the opportunity “to remove visa partitions that divided our countries that allows them to participate in the global economy and facilitates cultural exchanges, investment and tourism.”

Ambassador for the Eastern Caribbean States, Dr. Len Ishmael, representing the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, emphasized that “St. Vincent and the Grenadines, though a Small Island State, is a country of big character and a big heart and the visa waiver will open the doors to a world ripe with promise.” Ambassador Ishmael also noted that the agreement ‘reciprocates arrangements that had been in place to facilitate the travel of EU citizens; all a strong testimony to a maturing relationship.”

With these latest rounds of Schengen visa waivers, all OECS Member States have now been granted visa-free access to the Schengen area, which comprises all EU Member States except the United Kingdom and Ireland. Separate Agreements must be signed with non-EU Schengen States such as Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Norway. Separate mechanisms must also be pursued with France’s ORs. Within the OECS, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis already enjoy visa-free access to the Schengen area.

The EU side was represented by the Parliamentary State Secretary for EU Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, H.E. Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica and the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopolos, who underscored that he trusts “the Agreement will contribute to strengthening cultural exchanges and people-to-people contact between the EU and the respective countries.”

The Schengen visa waiver Agreements will be provisionally applied as from 28th May 2015, following which all parties will proceed with the process of ratification. The visa-free travel allows entrance into the Schengen area for any 90 days in a 180 day period.

The lobbying, negotiations and realization of the Agreement for the Eastern Caribbean were led by the Ambassador and diplomatic staff of the joint Mission of the Eastern Caribbean States in Brussels, which represents the Commonwealth of Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This agreement augurs well for the traditionally dynamic relationship between the European Union and the Caribbean, and builds on other bi-regional initiatves such as the Cariforum-EU Economic Partnership Agreement and the joint Caribbean-EU Partnership Strategy; all of which aim to enhance the strategic bi-regional partnership at different levels.

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