Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sidestepped a Caribbean pitch for free trade with Canada yesterday by reminding the various island nations of the preferred status they already enjoyed and promising to stick by previous aid commitments.
But even though Mr. Mulroney refused to commit himself to any new arrangements, his approach was applauded by several leaders present at the Caribbean Commonwealth conference.
Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, the host of the conference, delivered the appeal for free trade yesterday. Modelled on the U.S.
Caribbean Basin Initiative, Mr. Seaga had even given a name to the proposed arrangement – Caribcan.
He asked that Canada adopt a one-way free trade arrangement with Caribbean Commonwealth countries that would allow all products unlimited entry to Canada.
Mr. Mulroney responded that 93 per cent of Caribbean exports already enter Canada duty-free and most of the remaining exports enjoy favorable treatment. However, Mr. Seaga is seeking the removal of trade barriers on textiles, footwear and cigars. He also wants reductions on non-tariff restrictions on Caribbean rum.
Mr. Seaga said the Caribbean countries were not seeking an increase in official government-to- government aid from Canada. Rather, he wants changes that will allow the private sector to create jobs and produce exports.
The limited Caribbean capacity to produce textiles or footwear would only produce a small ripple in the Canadian market but would have a significant impact on jobs in the Caribbean.
Increasing incomes in the Caribbean woild in turn increase the Caribbean countries’ abilities to buyimports from Canada and the United States, Mr. Seaga concluded.
The Jamaican leader also spoke about special incentives to attract more Canadian investment to the Caribbean.
The official Canadian response is that Ottawa will consider the request but will have to consult the provinces as well, since areas of provincial jurisdiction would be involved in such an arrangment.
Mr. Mulroney’s statements yesterday represented one of his first foreign policy speeches since being elected last September. He shied away from new commitments, focusing instead on reassuring the other heads of governments that the Conservative Government will stick by accords reached its Liberal predecessors.
He also underlined his determination to ”efurbish” Canada’s relationship with the United States; leaving open the suggestion that he was prepared to carry the results of this week’s meeting to the discussions he will have next month in Quebec City with President Ronald Reagan.
The Mulroney approach impressed Bermuda Prime Minister John Swan who said he gained the impression the Canadian Prime Minister was prepared to advance Canada’s role as ”mbudsman” for the Third World.
He said Mr. Mulroney had ”ome here as a listener but had helped set the tone by developing a consensus.”