When Jamaica’s PM Portia Simpson Miller met with her Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper recently as part of celebrations to mark 50 years of relations between both countries it must be widely perceived as mere or overplayed formality given the base of long-standing civil relations between the two countries.
Jamaica and the wider Caribbean have long held Canada to be an ally. In fact, Canada was among the first countries to officially establish diplomatic relations - opening a high commission in Kingston shortly after Jamaica gained independence in 1962.
Jamaica set up office in Ottawa on September 7, 1962. On August 8, 1962 His Excellence Earl Maynier presented its documents to the Prime Minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker to become Jamaica’s first high commissioner.
On March 4, 1963, Graham McInnes became Canada’s first high commissioner to Jamaica. Today the Jamaican community in Canada is estimated at 300,000.
But perhaps, many Jamaicans will remember even more vividly the strong bond the country would later develop in the 15 years of the government of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
It was Trudeau who many regard as having worked very hard to better relations between the industrialised nations and Third World countries at the height of the Cold War, carving a place in the heart and history of the Caribbean people.
Today the relationship between both countries has strengthened significantly in key areas like tourism, trade and mutual security matters.
Jamaica’s national records office - the Statistical Institute - Statin reports that for January to August 2011, Canada was our second largest trading partner, accounting for J$142,262,398 in domestic exports.
It was our eighth largest trading domestic import partner with trade valued at J$78,534,630. The two countries are involved in wider discussions on a Canada/CARICOM trade and development agreement which must be completed before 2013.
A 2011 report from the Economic and Social Survey, points to Canada as a major player in Jamaica’s tourism industry with stopover arrivals steadily increasing since 2006.
Since 2007, it has surpassed the United Kingdom as the country’s second largest source market. In addition, Jamaica participates in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) which sees approximately 6,000 Jamaica workers in Canada annually to meet the temporary seasonal needs of Canadian agricultural producers.
The bond is represented even at the highest levels in trade with Canada representing Jamaica and Ireland on the boards of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Canada’s development assistance program in Jamaica is managed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA’s four-year, $17.2 million Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST) Program was launched in December, 2011.
Additionally, Jamaica benefits from a $5 million CIDA contribution intended to support sustainable agriculture practices aimed at providing more durable, hurricane-resistant greenhouses and improving environmental management of small-scale fisheries.
Jamaica, along with the other CARICOM countries, continues to benefit from participation in the $600 million, twelve-year regional development program announced in 2007.
In a ceremony in Canada to mark the important milestone, PM Harper last month indicated that there could be more to come in investments to the region from which Jamaica is sure to benefit.
Canada’s records are that in 2011 Jamaica was Canada’s third largest merchandise export market among the CARICOM countries (after Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas).
Bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Jamaica increased from $291.9 million in 2010 to $386.3 million in 2011. Canada’s merchandise exports to Jamaica in 2011 totalled $112.1 million (down 13.7% from 2010 levels) and were mostly meats, electrical and other machinery, fish, pharmaceutical products, cereals, paper and paper board and plastics.
Canadian imports from Jamaica stood at $274.1 million (up 69% from 2010). CRIME Data from the Canadian High Commission’s website details the countries’ partnership in fighting crime through programs like the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program (ACCBP) and the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program (CTCBP).
Assistance has been provided for training in polygraph operation, cyber-security, maritime border security, and anti-money laundering techniques.
In fact, among the first official duties of H.E. Robert Ready, the current commissioner was a visit to the Polygraph Unit at the Jamaica Police Academy, Twickenham Park, St Catherine on October 17.
Ready during the visit officially handed over two vehicles and polygraph equipment to the Jamaica Constabulary Force and Jamaica Defence Force.
Canada and Jamaica signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year to establish a Canadian Forces Operational Support Hub in Jamaica.
It has assisted Jamaica in the construction and development of the Jamaican Military Aviation School which provides helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft training to pilots throughout the Caribbean.
Defence co-operation also includes pre-deployment training for Canadian Forces’ engineers and as they assist JDF in improving security infrastructure.
There has also been co-operation in education and training with projects like the Basic Needs Trust Fund Fifth Program (BNTF5) - a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) grant fund of US$6.171 million administered by the CDB with GOJ counterpart funding of US $1.289 million. Roughly $77.3 million was disbursed in 2011.
Since 2007, 143 Jamaican students have been awarded scholarships to study in Canada. SOURCE: • Canadian High Commission website • Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Foreign Trade • Statin • Economic and Social Survey Jamaica 2011 • Jamaica Information Service website