Elizabeth Morgan | Is Canada’s importance in CARICOM trade waning?

Elizabeth Morgan | Is Canada’s importance in CARICOM trade waning?

Last week, I mentioned that October would see meetings between member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and main traditional trading partners in the Western Hemisphere.

Last week was the meeting of the US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council in Georgetown, Guyana, on October 13. This week, on October 18-19, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be hosting CARICOM heads of Government at a meeting in Ottawa. This is the first summit to be held in Canada.

This will also be the third meeting between PM Trudeau and CARICOM heads since a scheduled meeting in February 2020 was postponed. The heads may have met at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in 2022. Prime Minister Trudeau attended the conference of CARICOM Heads of Government as a special guest in The Bahamas in February.

Technically, the first Canada/CARICOM Summit was held in St Lucia in February 1983 as the meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth Western Hemisphere Countries. Prior to this, there were the Canada/West Indies conferences held from 1912-1966. CARICOM and Canada foreign ministers have been meeting in recent years. They met in June in Washington, DC, on the margins of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly.


This week’s CARICOM-Canada Summit will be under the theme ‘Strategic Partners for a Resilient Future’. It will be co-chaired by PM Trudeau and PM Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica as the current chair of CARICOM. The conference agenda will include implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change and financing for development. Prime ministers Andrew Holness of Jamaica and Justin Trudeau are co-chairs of the UN Group of Friends on Sustainable Goals Financing. The agenda will also include Haiti, immigration, and other issues on the multilateral agenda. I expect that there will be some discussion on trade. I note that there will be a meeting with Canadian business leaders and investors to look at commercial opportunities in the region.

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Since 2020, I have been writing articles on the state of CARICOM and Canada trade and investment, including my article of July 2020 titled ‘Can Canada-CARICOM Trade and Investment flows be revitalised?’ Over past weeks, I have focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the importance of trade in their implementation.

Trade Map shows that in 2022, Canada’s total goods imports from CARICOM was estimated at US$552 million, while exports were estimated at US$847 million. The balance of trade was in Canada’s favour, showing a surplus of US$295 million. CARICOM’s goods exports to Canada have been declining. Canada’s 2022 goods exports to Jamaica were estimated at US$157.4 million and imports from Jamaica were US$61 million. Canada now has a surplus of US$96 million. Recall that Jamaica used to have a surplus in this trade due to alumina, but since 2018, Jamaica’s exports have declined.

In goods trade, CARICOM is trading with Canada under the unilateral, non-reciprocal Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN), for which the WTO MFN waiver was extended this year to 2033.

In services, the CARICOM export is primarily tourism, as with the USA. In 2022, 270,000 visitors from Canada came to Jamaica. 396,000 Canadians came to Jamaica in 2019. The services trade is also stagnating, it seems.

In investments, reviewing the list of major Canadian companies, I would say that most of them have no business engagement with Jamaica. Scotiabank was the most significant company which I could identify, and, as we know, Scotiabank has been downsizing. Michael Lee-Chin, Jamaican/Canadian, is possibly the most known Canadian investor in Jamaica.

The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are more important business destinations for Canada in CARICOM.


As a market, CARICOM, with less than 20 million people collectively, is, indeed, a small market for Canada, which, through its trade policy, is seeking to expand its trade with significant global markets, post-pandemic. Canada, with a population, since June, of 40 million people, is the world’s ninth largest economy, and one of the world’s largest trading economies. In the growth of its population, Canada continues to attract educated and skilled immigrants from the CARICOM region. CARICOM countries should be looking at how they can improve exports to Canada. However, as stated in previous articles, there is no formal mechanism for trade discussions.

The issue involving Canada receiving most attention in the Jamaican media, and possibly in other parts of the region, is the treatment of Seasonal Agricultural Workers on Canadian farms (farm work). This is not considered a trade in services issue, as these programmes fall under the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Nevertheless, Canada has placed emphasis on labour issues in free trade agreements, especially on implementing the ILO core labour standards. Thus, it is surprising to see the level of negative reporting surrounding the farm work programme which has been in place with Jamaica and other CARICOM countries since 1966. I would expect that the opportunity will be taken to raise this matter with PM Trudeau. About 10,000 Jamaicans are engaged in this programme annually.

In the context of financing the UNSDGs, CARICOM has to look seriously at how exports to Canada and investment flows into the region can be increased. The importance of Canada, as a market and investment source, seems to be waning, and this would be an unfortunate development for a country like Jamaica and the region generally.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com


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