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Joint Task Force suggested for charting future U.S.- Caribbean relations

wesley-kirton-on-u-s-caribbean-relationsFrom South Florida Caribbean News

Ft. Lauderdale – Caribbean governments and the private sector in the region as well as Caribbean diaspora organizations in America need to set up a joint mechanism to help successfully chart future Caribbean relations with the United States.

Such a mechanism would provide for a stronger lobby and a more coordinated approach to resolving many of the issues that negatively impact the region and its diaspora.

This view was expressed by Wesley Kirton, chair of Florida Conference on the Caribbean: The Diaspora Discussion held here last week as a collateral event at the Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE 2016).

Kirton, who is Director, Caricom Outreach, Outreach Aid to the Americas (OAA) and president of the Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) argued that greater use should be made of diaspora organizations in articulating the Caribbean position on issues which need to be addressed by various US agencies.

“There are a variety of issues affecting the conduct of U.S. – Caribbean relations, many of which impact negatively on the economies of the region, which restrict trade and investment in both directions, some which affect the diaspora as well and many of these have been longstanding issues which regional governments have not been able to solve through diplomatic engagement.

“The U.S. system is one where elected officials can help influence decisions and these same officials look to Caribbean Americans to vote for them.

The Caribbean diaspora can be a useful force for helping to find solutions to some of these issues but the approach has got to be well coordinated, one where the strategy and objectives are clear and the stakeholders sing from the same hymn sheet,” the former Guyanese diplomat told participants in a panel discussion on barriers to trade and investment.

Kirton also suggested that such a mechanism, which could take the form of a task force, could help to give positive effect to legislation passed in the US Congress which is designed to help the Caribbean.

He alluded to legislation currently before the congress entitled the U.S. – Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act (HR 4939) which when enacted gives the US State Department 180 days to present a plan for engagement with the Caribbean and its Diaspora that will seek to promote economic development among other provisions.

“Are we in the Caribbean diaspora as well as the governments and the private sector in the region preparing to identify and share with the U.S. government our priorities and initiatives or will this turn out to be just another piece of paper?” Kirton asked.

One of the key objectives of future U.S. – Caribbean engagement should be to have various U.S. agencies better coordinate their own laws and regulations especially as these relate to trade since according to Kirton, several Caribbean American businesses have been penalized as a result of a lack of coordination among U.S, agencies.

We have had cases where Caribbean American owned businesses have imported mosquito coils from the region. These are allowed in by US Customs only to be seized from the shelves of retail outlets by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and heavy fines imposed on these small businesses.

There have been instances where cooking wines have been imported from the region and allowed to be sold in grocery stores because, according to US customs, the alcohol content is not at the level that requires a liquor license but yet these are seized by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm (ATF) agency.

And there are many more examples I can give including one where an importer of a certain specie of fish was charged by the Florida Fish and Wildlife agency although the fish was imported from the region and was merely transiting Florida for sale in Georgia.

These are the kind of issues we have to address so as to remove these barriers to trade,” Kirton stressed.

He expressed the hope that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat would take a lead role in promoting the discussion about and implementation of a joint task force that would include the diaspora with its voting power. “This would prove much more effective than hiring high-paying lobbyists,” Kirton argued.

IMAGE: Wesley Kirton

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