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Canada Assisting Jamaica, Caribbean in Bigger Ways Than Before

Canada Assisting Jamaica, Caribbean in Bigger Ways Than Before

Posted by Shanelle Weir on September 29, 2014

Much like a covert philanthropist, Canada has been providing vital assistance to Jamaica for decades.

In fact, the relationship between Ottawa and Kingston predates Jamaica's Independence in 1962.

"It goes right back to the old days of the British Empire Trading System, where salt fish would get traded for rum and molasses between Newfoundland and Jamaica," Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica Robert Ready said last week at a sitting of the Jamaica Observer Press Club.

The records show that Canada has consistently provided help to Jamaica in the form of aid, debt relief, preferential trade arrangements, and advocacy on our behalf in international fora where the island does not have a seat.

But it's not as if the Canadians, in their thrust to strengthen relations, singled out Jamaica, as they have been providing trade and developmental assistance to the Caribbean.

For instance, after then United States President Ronald Reagan announced the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) in February 1982 with the aim of promoting economic development and political stability in the region, Canada established the Caribbean-Canada (CaribCan) Trade Agreement to promote trade and investment through duty-free, quota-free access of goods from Commonwealth Caribbean countries to the Canadian market.

The programme has been renewed periodically since its establishment in 1986, even when it required a waiver at the World Trade Organisation.

But even as that waiver expired in December 2013, and Caricom governments are yet to finalise a new agreement with Canada, it is obvious that Ottawa is deeply committed to continue assisting the region.

High Commissioner Ready pointed to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement in 2007 of a CAD$600-million development programme for the Caribbean as proof of that commitment.

That assistance, Ready said, runs for 12 years and promotes sustainable economic growth, security -- both in the context of the rule of law and justice reform -- and disaster preparation and mitigation.

"Those are the broad pillars around which the regional programme is organised," he said, adding that there are 30 projects being implemented under the programme.

They include assistance in:

* establishing accountable public institutions by enhancing the management of state finances in an effort to increase the effectiveness of revenue systems;

* improving revenue generation and fiscal policies in order to fashion budgets for more effective and efficient programmes;

* strengthening the next generation of Caribbean leaders through the sharing of best practices in governance reforms;

* strengthening management systems, data collection, research, analysis, and public awareness activities at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Secretariat;

* economic development of local governments and agencies, which Ottawa estimates will benefit as many as 500 micro, small and medium-sized businesses in six countries;

* capacity-building of Caribbean institutions through partnerships with Canadian colleges to develop technical and vocational education and training in order to provide a labour market equipped with the skills that are in demand; and

* strengthening distance education to help build the University of the West Indies' Open Campus capacity, giving up to 42 learning sites across the Caribbean access to post-secondary education.

Also among the projects is the provision of short-term assistance after major natural disasters, a community disaster risk reduction initiative that provides training and information on best practices, and the Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Programme, which increases the capacity of regional organisations, governments and communities to respond to and manage natural disasters and reduce the impact on people.

Easily one of the biggest programmes being implemented by the Canadians in Jamaica is the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST), a five-year bilateral initiative into which the Harper Administration is pumping CAD$20 million in cash and technical assistance.

Last week, High Commissioner Ready said his Government was satisfied with the pace of the reform process.

"We recognise two things -- it's a tremendously complex area, just technically the justice system has so many facets; it's also one that requires a lot of consultation and consensus and that takes a little bit of time. But what we are quite impressed with is the commitment of the Jamaican authorities and the Jamaican participants in the justice system," Ready said.

According to the diplomat, one of the reasons for Canada's focus on regional development is his country's recognition "that there are development needs, many of which are fiscal that we can help with".

He said that when he first arrived here two years ago he met people, "out and about" who would tell him that they used to see a lot of Canadian involvement in Jamaica.

His answer: "We are very present, not just in big flagship projects like JUST, but we are doing little, medium-sized and large initiatives all over the island... We're here bigger than we were in the past."

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