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Caribbean to lobby for softer terms at UK Forum

Caribbean foreign ministers are to Monday lobby United Kingdom (UK) Foreign Secretary, William Hague to ask the G-20 for softer borrowing terms although the income rating for the group of largely former British colonies has gone up, a senior member of the delegation said.

Chairman of the 15-nation Caribbean Community’s (Caricom) ministerial council on foreign relations. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said that although the region urgently needs softer loans and grants although many economically devastated countries have been classified as middle and high-income countries.

“What we are trying to do is to have some kind of institutionalized arrangement that caters for the special vulnerabilities of these countries,” said Rodrigues-Birkett, who is also Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister.

She and her colleagues expect to tell Hague at the 8th Caribbean-UK Forum that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is a narrow assessment by which to measure aid-delivery and trade relations.

With the economies of many tourism-dependent Caribbean countries – except oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, and agriculture and gold-producing Guyana- teetering because of fewer Canadian, American and European tourists due to the recent global economic and financial crisis, she said Caricom wants the UK to ask the G-20 for special and differential treatment.

The Caricom foreign relations chairman hopes that the UK would be able to influence other G-20 nations to get the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to change the way they deliver aid to the Caribbean which is prone to natural disasters. “If we are to do the vulnerability assessment, most of countries are located in the hurricane belt and every year they are faced with natural disasters and so there are a constant state of building and so if they include those kinds of peculiarities they will have a better understanding of where we are,” she said.

Rodrigues-Birkett said the G-20 should not only focus on the Caribbean as having tax- havens, as they have done in the past, they should examine the region from the perspective of development.

Caricom’s call for special treatment by the International Financial Institutons (IFI) and the Developed Nations, she said, has also come against the background that preferential market access for sugar and bananas to Europe has dwindled in recent years due to rulings by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Tourism-dependent St. Lucia plans to lay off public servants or reduce their salaries because there is insufficient revenue.

Also on the agenda of the Caribbean-UK Forum are the development of alternative energy sources and improving security in the face of increasing drugs and arms trafficking through the Caribbean sea.

The UK’s former colonies – Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago- as well as Haiti, Suriname, and the Dominican Republic are expected to attend the meeting.

The Foreign Ministers are due to meet briefly with British Prime Minister, David Cameron and hold sessions with theCaribbean All Party British Parliamentary Group and the Caribbean Diaspora in the UK.