By Douglas Mcintosh
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) — Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, has called for the strengthening of relations between Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states and non-English-speaking countries across the Caribbean and Latin America.
He was speaking at the closing panel discussion on ‘Challenges and Opportunities in the Caribbean’ at the sixth International Monetary Fund (IMF) High Level Caribbean Forum in New Kingston on Thursday, November 17.
The prime minister was supported in his call by Grenada’s prime minister, Dr Keith Mitchell, and The Bahamas’ deputy prime minister and finance minister, Peter Turnquest.
Holness, who indicated that he is a “big proponent” of full Caribbean integration, argued that significant benefits can be derived from stronger relations between CARICOM countries and countries such as the Dominion Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
He said Jamaica is actively pursuing a policy of outreach and engagement with the Spanish-speaking countries within the region.
“I have paid an official visit to the Dominican Republic (with which) we are pursuing a joint tourism agreement… and we have done the same with Cuba,” he pointed out.
“There is a huge market in Latin America, which Jamaica has to tap into… and I think the rest of the Caribbean has to do the same. For us, I think there is greater advantage with us reaching out,” he added.
While acknowledging that “language is a barrier”, Holness maintained that “it is in our interest that we have the policies to support our people speaking a second language, in particular Spanish and French”.
Mitchell, for his part, said much is already taking place towards integrating non-English-speaking countries.
He pointed out that Haiti will be the next chair of CARICOM, while Martinique has been admitted as an associate member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Additionally, he said Guadeloupe has applied for Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) membership “and most likely will be admitted, so I think there is some significant movement in that regard; we are moving in the right direction”.
Turnquest also agreed that CARICOM needs to do more to support and integrate non-English-speaking countries.
He noted that opportunities often available to English-speaking territories are invariably not afforded to the other countries “because of the fact that they are isolated, in some respects, because of the language issues”.
He said that The Bahamas has a very active and positive relationship with all its non-English-speaking neighbours“, because of very specific strategic issues that we have between us”.
The panel discussion, which was moderated by IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde, was one of four convened during the conference, which was held under the theme ‘Unleashing Growth and Strengthening Resilience in the Caribbean’.