It is to be hoped that the visit last week to Canada of Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who in July will become the chair of Caricom, an association of 15 Caribbean nation-states, will help move forward Canada's free-trade negotiations with Caricom. Canada's merchandise trade with the Caricom countries is not huge, but the connections in banking, energy, immigration and culture are strong.
Indeed, there is a risk of moving backward. The existing Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement of 1986 is essentially a unilateral free-trade treaty; many Caribbean goods can enter Canada duty-free, but the converse is not true. The World Trade Organization, quite properly, requires reciprocity in trade agreements; the WTO keeps granting temporary exemptions, but the latest one will expire in December. Both sides need a clear negotiating agenda, which is now lacking.
According to Ms. Persad-Bissessar, some Caribbean countries feel "insecurity and fear" about Canadian exports, but Trinidad and Tobago welcomes a more open economy.
In a good paper for the C.D. Howe Institute, Phil Rourke of the Centre for Trade Policy and Law says that Canada needs to figure out how to negotiate agreements with developing economies, such as India, and that work on a smaller scale, such as with Caricom, can be instructive. But a Caricom treaty may well allow a neglected Canadian-Caribbean trading potential to flourish.