Troubled waters in Caricom *LINK*
Posted By: News
Date: 19, November 03, at 8:02 p.m.
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC—Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur says his country will not be pursuing deepening political unity with Trinidad and Tobago unless the contentious issue of a fishing agreement between the two countries is first resolved.
He made the position clear during a news conference here on Saturday at which he expressed concern that the credibility of the regional integration was being compromised due to an inability by Caribbean Community (Caricom) member states to resolve matters which affect the livelihoods of citizens.
Of particular concern to the Barbados leader is a long-standing fishing dispute with Port of Spain, which, he now says, must be settled before there is any deepening of political unity between the two Caricom countries.
The proposal for improving the governance structure was tabled by Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister Patrick Manning at the Caricom Intercessional meeting in February and was under consideration by the governments of Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.
However, Arthur told reporters that the technical group which has been looking into the matter has not yet completed its work and, in any event, Barbados was no longer interested in proceeding.
"We do not believe that there would be any credibility in our seeking to develop a new relationship at the level of governance without being able to conclude something as pragmatic and simple and sensible as a fishing agreement," said Arthur.
"I think everybody would reasonably expect that we would seek to bring a 12-year negotiation process to conclusion first before we put to bed matters that are only of recent vintage and which are in the realm of general governance and do not affect immediately the livelihoods of ordinary men and women," he added.
A source close to Manning said last night that he was hoping good sense would prevail and that an amicable resolution to the fishing dispute would be reached soon.
The Express understands that a team of T&T officials will be heading to Bridgetown today to resume negotiations which were delayed by an "unreasonable request" from Barbados.
An official said Barbados was seeking something not allowed by international law but did not give details.
Arthur has said that Barbados was anxious to have the fishing agreement, as well as a maritime boundary treaty satisfactorily concluded, adding that it would provide a more enabling environment within which the two countries could pursue the deepening of other relationships.
Arthur said the fishing agreement was important to the livelihoods of Barbadian fishermen, while the maritime boundary agreement was critical to the joint development and utilisation of the maritime and energy resources in the Caribbean Sea.
"We will accord the highest possible priority to the finalisation of such treaties and in this respect meetings are planned for November 19 to 25 between officials of the Government of Barbados and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to try to bring these matters that have been outstanding to some conclusion," he said.
However, on the fishing matter, he described the negotiating process so far as "difficult", noting that he had written to the Prime Minister of Trinidad on at least three separate occasions representing very strongly the perspective of the Government of Barbados and its negotiating team on where the negotiations stood.
"We are seeking to engage in this additional round of negotiations, in good faith, in the belief that we can bring these matters to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. But the truth is that these matters have been on the road too long," Arthur complained.
"The credibility of the regional integration movement in itself in my judgment is being compromised by the inability to have resolution to matters that matter in the day to day lives of the people of the region and we would like to see these matters brought to a conclusion," he said.
• With reporting by Richard Lord
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