Canada should prioritize Caribbean trade deal: think-tank

But local market analysts say an agreement would be “small potatoes” for B.C. exports By Jenny Wagler

Market access for Caribbean rum is one thorny issue that's slowing negotiations for a Canada-Caribbean trade deal

Canada should step up efforts to finalize a free-trade deal with the 15 countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), according to a new C.D. Howe Institutereport.

The report by the Toronto-based think-tank acknowledges that Canada's trade with CARICOM countries is small, but argues that by signing a trade deal, Canada could both encourage economic links between the jurisdictions and further Canada's Caribbean development goals in a "trade-not-aid" spirit.

It further argues that concluding such a trade deal could create a simplified template for Canada's future trade talks with other developing countries.

"Canada is used to negotiating trade deals with developed countries, and its model for negotiations reflects that," said report author Phil O'Rourke. "But the future trade agenda is mainly in the developing world, where Canada has less experience. Because a trade deal with CARICOM could serve as a model for future trade pacts with other countries, these negotiations should make the cut on Canada's priority list."

O'Rourke told Business in Vancouver that Canada doesn't have much experience negotiating free-trade deals with developing countries, except "low-hanging fruit" such as comparatively wealthy Chile. He said that approach is too long and complex to efficiently secure deals in areas such as the Caribbean.

"We're talking about 15 different countries at different kinds [of stages] of economic development. We've got to simplify the agenda and focus on [areas of mutual interest], rather than trying to create something just because we have a template to do so."

O'Rourke acknowledged that B.C. doesn't have the same community interest in the potential deal as Ontario and Quebec, which have much larger Caribbean Canadian populations.

But he said a trade deal might benefit B.C. "foodies" by bringing more Caribbean foodstuffs to grocery store shelves and could boost industry by attracting some new talent to the province.

John Ries, a professor at Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, said that because of geography and B.C.'s industry composition, the province would gain little from a Caribbean trade deal. He said Canadian banking providers and telecommunications providers might stand to benefit, but that they are a small cluster in B.C.

"I don't see any harm to B.C. from a deal, but I don't think there's any real big payoff for us," Ries said. "[The Caribbean countries] are pretty small potatoes in the global economy." •

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