Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says that at times yesterday’s talks between United States Vice-President Joe Biden and leaders from the 15-nation Caricom group were “brutal,” but that the US remains a strong ally to the entire region.
Speaking at a news briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, after the talks, which included a delegation from the Dominican Republic, Persad-Bissessar said the T&T Government had also been invited by the US to view decommissioned naval vessels to see whether they would be able to assist T&T with border security.
At yesterday’s briefing, at which no questions were allowed, the current chairman of Caricom, Haitian President Michel Martelly, described the talks as “frank but cordial” and said the meeting with Biden was an important precursor to a summit between regional leaders and US President Barack Obama.
While Biden, who spoke first, said the talks were “important,” “completely open, frank and straightforward,” Persad-Bissessar said: “Both of you mentioned being very frank. I would say that it was brutal, but at the end of the day there was consensus and together we share much in common: in terms of our people, in terms of our culture. Indeed our jurisprudence and our language.”
Addressing Biden directly, she said while South and Central America are closer to Caricom geographically, “in many ways the Caricom region is closer to the US and we were very heartened to hear your comments and warm wishes and the rededication and recommitment on the part of the US to continue to partner and work with T&T and the Caricom.”
Persad-Bissessar, who said while there may be some who were of the view that the US was no longer interested in the Caribbean region, “the very fact that Vice-President Biden is here in the region is testimony to the fact that the US remains a very strong ally of Caricom and we will continue to be partners together in the development of the region.”
Biden said he was here in the region because President Obama wanted him to have a dialogue with regional leaders and because the US wants to become more deeply invested in partnership with all the nations of the Caribbean. “Our search for growth, jobs, affordable supplies of energy, our fight against transnational crime and the protection of our climate and the environment—all of these issues have no respect for borders and they affect all of our borders,” Biden said.
He said both himself and Obama were aware that small island, nation states faced special difficulties as the cost of doing business can be higher and goods are more expensive. “And so through the Caribbean Basin Initiative, we eliminated tariffs on 85 per cent of your goods and now we are looking for additional ways—and you discussed some of them with me today—to help create growth and diversity in the economies of the Caribbean,” Biden said.
One of the ways the US is looking to create growth in the region is through the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that Biden and Martelly signed yesterday. Biden described the agreement as a vehicle to overcome “special, specific, practical barriers to trade and investment,” adding that the joint goal of Caricom and the US was not only growth but growth that reaches everyone.