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The Pacific and The Caribbean: The Ties of Mutual Interest

5th June 2012 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments

I was in New York recently for a day.  The key purpose was to support New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, in our engagement with the Caribbean region. 

A number of my previous blogs have discussed my role as non-resident High Commissioner (based in Ottawa) to four countries in the Caribbean: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana. We have excellent relations with all countries in the region, but these are the four to which New Zealand has formal diplomatic accreditation. 

As part of our growing level of engagement with the region, Minister McCully met with the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) country representatives to the United Nations, hosted by our own Permanent Representative in New York, Jim McLay,  to discuss our shared interests.  While I visit the Caribbean region regularly and keep in close contact with my diplomatic colleagues here in Ottawa, it was instructive to hear from a much wider caucus on the key challenges and opportunities they saw as facing the region.

Minister McCully discussed our shared colonial heritage and Commonwealth membership, shared values, interests, and perspectives.   Much of this is driven by our membership of the Pacific Forum, of which we are the current Chair (after hosting the annual meeting in New Zealand last year) and where the deep historical, economic and people to people ties with our own Pacific region drives obvious shared interest with the Caribbean.   From a Pacific perspective there is probably no two regions that share more overlapping issues than the Pacific and the Caribbean. 

While in both regions there is a range of countries from the larger in Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago; to what I would call mid-size small island states like Barbados, Western Samoa and Vanuatu.  Then there are myriad “small”  island states: St Kitts and Nevis; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Tuvalu; The Cook Islands, to name a few.   The challenges are social, economic and environmental, either within or across the regions, are not identical, but the similarities are striking.

While a number of the CARICOM Permanent Representatives spoke to their own countries’ key issues, it was quickly clear there were common themes, themes which resonated strongly with the Minister regarding the Pacific.  It is clear that developing the long term economic resilience of both regions is what would drive societies forward.  Agriculture, while not a sexy development issue, is clearly fundamental to both regions, and an area where New Zealand, as a nation which makes its way economically through primary production, has something to offer.  The cost and reticulation of energy is a blocker of development potential. 

New Zealand has a good story to tell about its own energy production, and is also working in the Pacific on this challenge, particularly with regard to renewable energy.  And, probably the most common and enduring theme is that of education.  New Zealand is expanding scholarship options to the Caribbean region and there are a number of technical assistance avenues that can link areas of sector need (e.g. agriculture) to expertise and training options in New Zealand.

There was also extensive discussion around what is the primary focus of the work of the Permanent Representatives in New York; shared global challenges being addressed through the multilateral system.  While climate change (and attendant sea level rise) are pressing issues for all countries of the Pacific and Caribbean; issues including the trafficking of small arms and non-communicable (i.e. lifestyle) diseases are also prominent.  

At the macro level there was also the issue of how the smaller countries of the world (which very much includes New Zealand and the smaller Pacific Island nations) have a voice in the global context when so much of the discussion is being had in fora such as the G8 and  G20.   

I came away from the meeting with a strong sense there was significant scope for enhanced Pacific Island Forum-CARICOM dialogue and cooperation, and that this conversation could start now, while New Zealand remains Chair but readies to pass this role to The Cook Islands.   I think one of the early actions should be for Minister McCully to visit the region.  There is nothing like smelling the air, meeting people on the ground and seeing the challenges first hand to get a real feel for the opportunities that exist.  It would also provide the Minister, who is a regular visitor to the Pacific and knows the players and issues very well, an opportunity to establish some practical points of comparison between the two regions.

Previous blogs on the Caribbean: 7/2/12 Visit to Jamaica; 29/9/11 Visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Grenada; 11/9/11 The Pacific and the Caribbean: Oceans Apart but Similar Challenges; 8/3/11 Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana Accreditations; 3/2/11 Visit to Jamaica; 9/11/10 David Thompson, PM of Barbados (1961-2010).

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