Barbados PM says fishing pact is 'An impossible exercise'
By Richard Cox, www.guardian.co.tt
The political temperature in the fishing discord between Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago increased substantially this week as a clearly enraged Prime Minister Owen Arthur signalled his government's intention to retaliate against Port-of-Spain for the arrest of two Barbadian fishermen last weekend.
In what observers here say is the last straw that broke the camel's back, PM Arthur said Monday that his government would give T&T goods exported to Barbados the same treatment that T&T was meting out to Barbados fishermen.
The "treatment" would be introduced with "immediate effect", Arthur told members of the Private Sector Agency of Barbados following an emergency Cabinet meeting at Ilaro Court, his official residence.
This dispute has stretched back to 1990 when both countries had committed to an accord regulating fishing in Trinidad waters but, as Arthur said, that treaty has not been renewed.
The Barbados Prime Minister has located the problems attending the current fishing dispute in a fishing agreement that Trinidad has with Venezuela.
"The negotiations to have a maritime boundaries delimitation agreement with Trinidad and Tobago have been adversely affected by the prejudicial assumptions of the 1990 Trinidad and Tobago /Venezuela Maritime Delimitation Treaty.
"That treaty acknowledges Venezuela's claim to most of Guyana's territory and apportioned maritime territory to Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela to which they are not entitled under international law," Arthur said.
He said this treaty was condemned "in the strongest possible terms" when Prime Minister Patrick Manning was in opposition.
The Barbados leader said a fishing agreement and maritime boundary pact had proven to be "an impossible exercise" because Trinidad has resolutely held on to the "untenable" position embodied in the agreement with Venezuela that totally dismisses a "median line" as a starting point for negotiation.
No progress has been made with Trinidad, he said, despite the most concerted efforts.
So, at an emergency Cabinet meeting it was agreed to send the strongest possible signal to Trinidad that the time for action was now.
While committing his administration to the tenets of regional integration, Arthur left no doubt that Bridgetown was resolved to assume a more combative role in the effort to forge a fishing deal with Port-of-Spain.
Though he did not spell out what actions his government would take, sources in business community pointed to possible countervailing duties on the vast array of products pouring into Barbados from Trinidad.
It accounts for a huge trade deficit that Barbados has with Trinidad and is a perennial source of concern to the political and business constituencies.
According to December statistics from the Central Bank of Barbados, Trinidad exported a whopping $1.13 billion up to the end of October to Barbados and imported a mere $125.23 million.
In his speech Monday, Arthur was clearly rankled by the fact that T&T negotiators had come to the talks without a mandate to negotiate, a fact to which he had drawn the attention of his Trinidad counterpart in three letters and received no reply.
"My government has recently sent a diplomatic note to the Government of T&T requesting another round of fisheries negotiations for February. We are awaiting a response from the Government of Trinidad," Arthur said.
The latest Barbados action was about whether the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) can become a lived reality in which the Caribbean Sea could become the location for the sustainable livelihood for those who have no other option but to depend on it for their livelihood.
"And that is what is at stake," said Arthur, who has responsibility for the process leading towards the CSME. "And that is what we have this almost impossible difficulty in getting the Government of Trinidad to understand."
Arthur noted that T&T nationals already owned the best lands in Barbados, significant parts of the island's tourism enterprise, a substantial part of the distribution sector and the manufacturing industry.
There is more than $60 billion, it is estimated, that Trinidad has invested across all sectors of the Barbados economic landscape and Prime Minister Arthur is insisting there be some sort of reciprocity on the part of the Manning administration with regard to a fishing agreement.
The business community and politicians here have always mooted this linkage between Trinidad's trade advantage and fishing and the Barbados has now incorporated it into policy.
PM Arthur referred to recent takeovers of Barbadian institutions as the Barbados National Bank by the Republic Bank (T&T).
He said the decision to sell the bank, which was majority owned by the Barbados state, was based on the belief that such a strategic alliance between capital from the two Caricom neighbours would give the banking system a chance to compete with transnational corporations that had merged.
"We don't want to put a pause to such regional synergies, but you must believe me when I tell you that this Government of Barbados will not so define our national interest that we will remain prostrate while the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, in defiance of international law, takes advantage of the ordinary citizens of this country," he said.
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