Sandra Ann Baptiste, Columnist
CARICOM countries will finally have a voice at a major forum of world leaders that precedes this month's Summit of G20 countries in Toronto.
Jamaica and Haiti are among 10 countries invited to attend the June 25 meeting of the Group of 8 industrialised nations - comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - in the
Muskoka region, north of Toronto.
Colombia and seven African countries will also participate in the high-level meeting in Huntsville.
The G8 has evolved from a forum dealing largely with macroeconomic issues to an annual meeting with a broad-based agenda. Maternal and child-health programmes for developing countries is a major focus at the upcoming meeting, which will also address issues on security, nuclear proliferation and the environment.
Jamaica and Haiti are expected to participate in a special session on international narcotics trade.
Peter Kent, the Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs - Americas, who paid an official visit to several CARICOM countries last year, pointed to significant assistance to the region through the Canadian International Development Agency in a wide range of areas, including help on several fronts to enhance the region's capacity to fight crime and drug trafficking.
"We recognise that some criminal organisations have resources that are larger than some states and can protect and expand their enterprises," Kent said.
Canada is among those countries that announced travel advisories and alerts for travel to Jamaica after a state of emergency was declared last month following the clashes in the capital Kingston that led to 73 deaths during the search for wanted drug lord Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
The advisories have since been lifted.
Kent said Jamaica and Haiti would also have the opportunity to raise issues of concern to CARICOM in the outreach sessions.
Key issues need addressing
CARICOM Secretary General, Edwin Carrington, has identified inadequate access to concessionary financing and the harsh impact of international regulations on the region's financial services sector as key issues the region wants addressed.
A leading Caribbean economist has suggested that Caribbean governments should make the case that the global economic meltdown and its consequent stimulus packages have resulted in inward looking policies that affect investment flows to the region as well as demand that impacts critical sectors like tourism.
On the issue of Haiti, the G8 leaders will undoubtedly hear of the need for the timely disbursement of aid, which was stressed at the World Summit on the future of Haiti, held earlier this month in the Dominican Republic. It was attended by Haitian President Rene Preval; former US President and Special Envoy for the UN Secretary General, Bill Clinton; and CARICOM's envoy to Haiti, former Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson.
"Unless there is decisive action and evident momentum, we face the threat of a pervasive and paralysing crisis which would imperil the social, economic and institutional recovery of Haiti, thereby also preventing a smooth democratic transition," Patterson told the World Summit.
Around 1.5 million people were displaced following January's catastrophic earthquake. While US$10 billion was pledged at the New York international donors conference on Haiti last March, Brazil is reported to be the only major donor to have met its commitment so far.
Ethiopia, Malawi, the Netherlands, Spain and Vietnam were invited earlier this year to attend the wider G20 Summit on June 26-27 in Toronto.
Some Canadian and Caribbean analysts at that time questioned why CARICOM, which has long-standing ties with Canada, was not invited to have representation at the gathering of world leaders.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who identified the G20 summit's focus as moving forward commitments made by world leaders to ensure recovery of the global economy and restore jobs around the world, said those five countries initially invited would "bring valuable perspective to the task."
Prior to the announcement of the Caribbean's participation, Minister Kent advised that he would be raising issues of concern to CARICOM at the G20 Summit.
Kent said the 15-member CARICOM bloc "represented a significant political, commercial and social part of the hemisphere."
The G20, which includes 19 countries and represents about 80 per cent of world trade and two-thirds of the world's population, will discuss steps to keep the fragile economic recovery on track, stimulate the economies of the G20 member countries and keep their markets open.
Economy still vulnerable
Even though Canada's post-recession economic forecast is considered rosy and it recorded a robust 2010 first-quarter GDP growth of 6.1 per cent, Minister Kent admitted that the Canadian economy was still vulnerable to a global economic downturn.
Canada's banking rules and effective supervision is widely hailed as effective in preventing the type of banking crises that have hit the United States and Europe, which is also battling a debt crisis. Several eurozone countries have announced austerity packages.
Former Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, says the Toronto Summit should address three key issues - global financial reforms, food security and climate change.
He regards food security as a critical issue for the Caribbean, noting that the cost of basic commodities has increased, poorer countries are unable to get financial credit, while the price of the region's major export commodities are dwindling and trade preferences have been eroded.
On the issue of climate change, Martin singled out Guyana and President Bharrat Jagdeo as "showing great leadership in the protection of tropical rainforests" and recommended that on major climate change issues, Canada "would do well to just quote Mr Jagdeo's speech at the UN."
Sandra Ann Baptiste is a business consultant and specialist in Caribbean affairs.