Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Caribbean, UK to deal with challenges

EVERYONE – that is people in the Caribbean – will definitely look forward to the commitments the UK has made in helping its former colonies in this region come to grips and resolving many of the challenges these islands continue to face. This is what will be expected from the UK Caribbean Ministerial Forum recently. Such occasions present parties on both sides of the table to discuss in a passionate way concerns raised by one and promises from the other to see how they can co-operate to correct. It is only through consultations that parties and even individuals resolve differences and identify areas through which they can both co-operate to deal effectively with pressing issues.

Prior to the convening of the Forum, Mark Simmonds, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister for the Caribbean, explained just where his country stands in forging closer ties with this region of approximately six million people. Correspondence from the British High Commission in Barbados quoted the Minister as saying that the forum, the first of which took place in 1998, remained the centre-piece for high level discussions between both sides on the big issues. He said as well both the British and Caribbean governments are working with real vigour to boost economic growth, tackle the debt burden regional countries are wilting under, and to create jobs opportunities for our citizens. It is no mean sport when a small group of island nations with open economies and demonstrating vulnerabilities of every sort, must confront what to them is a global climate that brings with some very challenging conditions be they economic or social. Therefore every offer of help will be more than welcomed by the Caribbean.

What makes this commitment by the UK so significant is that it offers hope and paves the way for increased co-operation and exchange of ideas that best suit the requirements deemed as important for the achievement of progress in this part of the world. It would be recalled not so long ago that the Caribbean islands, as Tourism destinations, were up in arms with the UK authorities over the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) which negatively affected the flow of visits from the UK to the Caribbean. Both collectively through the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and individually, Caribbean islands had mounted all kinds of responses to the British Government to have the APD removed. The imposition was not in their best interest as it had threatened to cripple the tourism industry and a market (the UK) which is still a very lucrative source market for long-stay visitors coming to these shores. To their credit they have got something of a respite and hopefully the APD will be a thing of the past. However, this will call for even more greater effort in demonstrating just how vital tourism is to the tourism dominated economies and why threats like an APD cannot by tolerated. Equally, the debt burden which has been a major talking point in the Caribbean has to be dealt with.

Luckily, so far, the heavily indebted nations of this region have not reneged on their debt repayment although some have sought debt rescheduling with creditors. This is unlike the events of the 1980s when some Latin American countries decided they were in no position to meet debt repayment and subsequently defaulted. In a nutshell, therefore, we require all the help we can get and will be holding the British to their words.

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