Brazil pushes Mercosur-Caricom trade deal
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Monday said South America's biggest trade bloc and the Caribbean looked on track to be able to sign a free trade deal in the future.
"I'm convinced that conditions are right for us to conclude an agreement between Mercosur and CARICOM," he said as he hosted the first summit between Brazil and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), held in Brasília Monday.
Mercosur group members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Venezuela is in the process of becoming a full member.
CARICOM counts 15 members: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and The Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Brazil is a registered observer of the Caribbean bloc since 2006.
The South American country signed 60 cooperation agreements with CARICOM at the summit in the areas of trade, agriculture, science and technology, the Organisation of American States (OAS) reported.
Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding was among 10 CARICOM leaders at the summit, as well as Haitian President René Préval, whose country suffered a devastating earthquake on January 12. Brazil has a key role in Haiti, being the lead nation for the military component of the United Nations (UN) stabilisation force there.
The other eight Caribbean heads were the leaders of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Suriname, St Vincent and The Grenadines, Guyana and St Lucia.
Lula noted that Caricom, although much smaller with only 17 million Caribbean residents, represented nearly half the votes in the OAS and seven per cent of the seats in the UN.
Trade between Brazil, Latin America's biggest economy, and CARICOM stood at US$5.2 billion in 2008, with a hefty trade surplus of US$4.4 billion in Brazil's favour. Lula called for measures to redress that imbalance.
OAS Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Albert R. Ramdin, an observer at the Brazil-Caricom meeting, said in a statement that it was an important step in strengthening hemispheric relations, and that "the open and frank debate on issues of significance to the hemisphere, in particular, the small economies of the Caribbean Community".
"This high-level consultation and the technical cooperation agreements will inevitably contribute to stronger relations between Brazil and its Caribbean neighbours, and enhance multilateralism throughout the Americas," Ramdin said.
- AFP and Gleaner reports