CARICOM/Colombia Trade Relations: The Barranquilla Meeting

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By Elizabeth Morgan

Foreign Ministers of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) travelled to Barranquilla in Colombia for the second CARICOM/Colombia Ministerial Summit on January 28. The first summit was held in June 2019. This second summit was co-chaired by host, Foreign Minister of Colombia, Marta Lucía Ramirez, and Foreign Minister of Belize, Eamon Courtenay. Belize is the current chair of CARICOM. The summit marked the 28th anniversary of the start of formal CARICOM/Colombia relations. They recognized the signing of the Partial Scope Agreement on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation on July 24, 1994. It seems that this second summit got little media coverage in the CARICOM region.

This Partial Scope Agreement, in trade, was initially a non-reciprocal preferential agreement in favour of the CARICOM parties.  This meant that goods from participating CARICOM countries could enter the Colombian market duty-free.  In 1998, the agreement was amended to introduce a level of reciprocity, meaning that CARICOM countries opened their markets to a range of goods imported from Colombia.

In July 2020, I wrote about CARICOM’s trade with Latin American countries, asking whether there were insurmountable barriers, given the consistently low level of CARICOM exports to these neighbourhood, nearer shore, countries. Needless to say, CARICOM countries, despite having a trade agreement with Colombia for 28 years, have a significant trade deficit with that country.

In 2020, available statistics indicate that the CARICOM region, as a whole, exported goods valued at US$149 million to Colombia and imported goods valued at US$306 million. CARICOM had a deficit of US$157 million. Jamaica, specifically, exported US$185,000, while importing US$138 million, thus having a significant trade deficit with Colombia. It appears that, through the years, the main CARICOM country trading with Colombia has been Trinidad and Tobago.

The Barranquilla Declaration

The Barranquilla Declaration adopted at the end of this ministerial summit acknowledged the commemoration of the 28th anniversary of the 1994 Agreement. The Ministers agreed that it should be used to reactivate trade and economic cooperation between CARICOM and Colombia. To deepen this relationship, the Agreement needed to be reexamined to adapt it to new global trends, incorporating new disciplines and products, to encourage increased participation from private sector companies. The Bahamas, Haiti and Suriname were invited to accede to the Agreement. Recall that the Bahamas is not participating in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The Declaration also noted the interest of some CARICOM countries in entering into bilateral agreements with Colombia. These countries were urged to establish working groups to explore the possibilities.

A meeting between the Caribbean Agency for Agricultural Health and Food Safety (CAHFSA) and counterpart bodies in Colombia was noted. The Ministers also agreed to promote further cooperation in agriculture to generate competitiveness.

They encouraged their trade and investment promotion bodies to place greater emphasis on generating investments for trade in both goods and services, and in promoting tourism.

The aim now is to have more regular meetings between CARICOM and Colombia at the various levels.

CARICOM’s need to increase exports

On February 10 in a webinar on the “Economic Outlook and Adjustments in a Pandemic Caribbean”, Ian Durant, the Deputy Director responsible for the Economics Division at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in Barbados, spoke to the need for CARICOM to increase exports of goods and services as it aims to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and to grow economies.

As individual CARICOM Member States, e.g. Dominica, look at revising their national trade policies, as I have said before, CARICOM needs to also be reviewing its regional foreign trade policy and strategy in collaboration with the private sector organizations. In my view, this should be done before engaging Colombia, or any other trading partner, in further trade negotiations.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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