New Saint Kitts and Nevis Envoy Wants to See Canada-CARICOM Trade Talks Relaunched

In a wide-ranging interview, Saint Kitts and Nevis High Commissioner Samuel Berridge talks about Canada-Caribbean trade, sustainable development, and visa-free travel to Canada.

Saint Kitts and Nevis’ newest envoy in Ottawa has his eyes set on paving the way towards a trade agreement between Canada and Caribbean nations.

Trade between Canada and Commonwealth Caribbean countries is governed by the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN), which is a non-reciprocal pact that requires World Trade Organization approval and through which Caribbean countries can export certain items to Canada without duties.

“CARIBCAN is very limited in scope and it’s just several items,” Saint Kitts and Nevis High Commissioner Samuel Berridge told The Hill Times during a March 14 interview at his country’s Sandy Hill chancery. “We would like to see a free trade agreement; we need to have that discussion.”

“The Caribbean gave the City of Toronto Caribana. The value of that is exponential—it’s significant,” he said but remarked that if someone from the Caribbean wants to participate, they need a visa.

“Entire bands can come from Barbados, they can come from Sant Kitts and Nevis, they can come from Saint Lucia,” he said. “They have to eat and they have to stay somewhere, so they have to spend money. I would like to see Caribana replicated in other provinces. Just imagine Caribana in Vancouver, Caribana in Calgary, Caribana in Saskatchewan.”

Berridge arrived in Ottawa in February to begin his first head of mission posting. Previously, he was a trade policy and foreign service officer in the Saint Kitts and Nevis foreign ministry for the past two decades, which included a posting at the United

Nations, where he focused on sustainable development and small island developing states.

A long-held complaint from Basseterre has been the imposition of a visa requirement on Kittitian and Nevisian visitors to Canada since 2014. Last year, those concerns were softened as Saint Kitts and Nevis was one of 13 countries to which Canada granted visa-free travel. As part of the electronic travel authorization (eTA) regime, those who have had a Canadian visa in the past 10 years, or those who hold a valid United States non

resident visa can enter Canada without the need of visa approval. The eTA can be applied for online for a small fee, whereas hopeful Kittitian and Nevisian travellers have to apply for a visa at Canada’s High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago.

Berridge said the change has opened “portals” for Saint Kitts and Nevis, but now they want to see the program extended. Currently, Kittitian and Nevisian travellers can only enter Canada with an eTA if they are landing at a Canadian airport, and not through a land border crossing.

“We have some work to do sensitizing our people to that aspect of it, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he said. “And we are going to continue the dialogue. … We would like to certainly continue the discussion to have the full visa waiver

instituted. It will be helpful for us in terms of people-to-people movement.”

With the prospect of ruinous annual hurricanes hitting the Caribbean country, Berridge highlighted co-operation on sustainable development to work towards solutions for climate change-related natural disasters, remarking that development assistance should not be solely based on GDP per capita, but also a country’s vulnerability.

“We can have one hurricane, and it can take us back 10 years. It can erode [and] erase 10 years of development,” he said. “We cannot be invulnerable. We are inherently vulnerable. Every year hurricanes come off the coast of Africa and they line up. If we miss one, another one will catch us. Sometimes two catch us in one year.”

In 1998, Hurricane Georges caused nearly $500-million in damages to the two-island nation with a population of a little more than 50,000 people.

Berridge said solutions are being pursued to make natural disasters less scathing, remarking that technology is being increasingly used to build “smart homes” that have led to far less destruction during hurricane season.

“When I was growing up, every year we got the same hurricanes, but every year we lost our roof,” he said, remarking that now roofs are increasingly being reinforced so they won’t be blown off in a storm.

“We learned from that. We cannot change the outside circumstances, but we can change how we react to that,” he said.

The Hill Times

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