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And now for a US-Caricom lobby

Tuesday, June 26th 2007

Trinidad Express Opinion

WE have reported that there was lusty applause in the Hall of the Americas at the Organisation of American States in Washington last Thursday, when Dr Denzil Douglas announced that a Caricom lobby is to be developed to represent the region's interest in the US.

In wrapping up the historic US Conference on the Caribbean, the St Kitts Nevis Prime Minister said it was one of the ringing declarations from the conference, that West Indians in the American diaspora had been recognised as a critical resource.

He said that resource would now be built upon, and configured into an important Caribbean lobby, to intervene on the region's behalf with the Washington power brokers.

This is one of the more effective ways in which views get taken into account, concerns get taken on board and policy gets formulated in the US congressional system.

Caribbean countries have historically sought to maintain an expensive presence in the US capital. Many if not all of them have hired equally expensive US lobbyists, with varying degrees of success. It is probably well established now that these arrangements have not yielded the kind of successes envisaged.

For more than a decade now under the rubric of functional co-operation, the region's leaders have been talking about joint representation in the councils of world business and diplomacy. This too, has faltered badly. And in addressing the several areas in which he said there was encouraging "understanding" on the part of the US congressional leaders Dr Douglas referred to the need for action-oriented follow-up.

Assistance for Haiti, the need for support in health development, the fight against HIV/AIDS, measures to compensate for the continuing brain drain and the export of trained, skilled labour, crime and counter-terrorism measures, and the vexing deportee question.

All these and more were raised during the meetings with the US President, the Secretary of State and others. They will require focused follow through if they are not going to wither and die on the vine of promise and potential. From Miami to New York, from Boston to Chicago and Los Angeles, West Indian nationals can be found who are able, ready and willing to be pressed into the service of the region.

Many of them have developed enormous experience in how the American system works. They can render the kind of assistance necessary to win support for measures in the US congress in the interest of the region. Notwithstanding the practical realities which will maintain the need for bilateral relations, Caricom member states must move now to consolidate on two fronts their interactions with their biggest trading partner.

The retention of separate professional lobbying firms must be reviewed in favour of the longed-for joint representation. And on top of that Caribbean nationals must be encouraged to develop the critical mass necessary for getting the policy makers in Washington to listen and to respond.


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