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CARICOM Heads of Government are keenly interested in greater co-operation among countries of the African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Group.

In making this point while addressing the South Pacific Forum Heads of State at Rarotonga, Cook Islands, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, the Honourable Hubert Ingraham said the Caribbean looked forward to the day when the skills, talents, experience and knowledge of the people and institutions of the two groups of States can be placed at the disposal of the two Regions.

Prime Minister Ingraham addressed the Forum on Wednesday evening as the representative of the Caribbean in the context of continuing efforts to secure ACP unity in the forthcoming negotiations for a new post Lome Agreement with Europe. Lomé IV, the trade and aid package, which governs economic relations between the European Union and the ACP countries, expires in 2000 and negotiations for a new agreement are due to begin in 1998.

Mr Ingraham’s address to the Pacific Forum follows that of Dominica Prime Minister the Honourable Edison James to the summit of the Organisation of African Unity at Harare, Zimbabwe last June. CARICOM Secretary General Mr Edwin Carrington accompanied Mr Ingraham to Rarotonga.

The Bahamian Prime Minister cited areas in which the co-operation among ACP states could focus including information technology, multi-lingual training, the environment, disaster preparedness and relief, tourism development and hotel training.

Perhaps, the most fundamental necessity in our relationship is the need to recognise the importance of greater and more institutionalised interaction between our two regions, as countries with so many features in common, he added. It made good planning sense, he said, to co-operate in areas of mutual interest to maximise benefits to our people particularly as together with the EU the groups comprised 86 countries – just short of half of the world’s community of nations.

Over the years, Mr Ingraham said, the Caribbean and the Pacific had worked closely together to obtain some of the major benefits of the Lome arrangements and to protect and preserve those “acquired rights” in that relationship. He said the Caribbean believed that the next AP-EU convention was critical to the region’s development aspirations.

“We firmly believe in the importance of achieving a new convention with the European Union which will help us to face the challenges of the 21st century with confidence, reduced levels of poverty and significantly enhanced technological and human resource development,” he said.

He reiterated that the Caribbean was not in favour of Regionalisation of any future ACP-EU convention. “We firmly believe that there should be a single convention, one crafted by us as an ACP Group, negotiated by us as an ACP Group and binding on us as an ACP Group.

“My colleagues and I fully understand that this process requires changes to the status quo. To that end we are committed to entering into a full exchange of views with you and with our colleagues in Africa in order to fashion a joint ACP agenda and negotiating brief,” he emphasised.

“Colleagues,” he added, “it is the strongly held view of the Caribbean, that now, more than ever before, solidarity between Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is critical to our interests in achieving individual and collective benefits for our countries and our regions.”

Mr Ingraham listed some of the characteristics of the new environment in which the latest convention will be negotiated including the need for the agreement to be compatible with obligations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO); an increasingly dominant role for the private sector; the re-focus of Europe upon itself and in particular upon the emerging eastern European economies and the promotion of good governance, human rights and participatory democracy.

The Bahamian Prime Minister informed the leaders of the South Pacific that a number of consultations had been taking place with respect to the new convention and indicated that a few perspectives had emerged. “Among them are the acceptance of the continuing relationship with Europe; the indispensability of ACP solidarity; the virtue of national, regional and inter-regional involvement in the process; the benefits of preserving Aacquired rights” of past Lomé Conventions (for our two regions sugar, bananas and the rum protocol as well as arrangements for tuna and garments come to mind); the need to supplement the Convention’s foreign exchange earning instruments such as STABEX and SYSMIN, with more fundamental and lasting arrangements for the processing of our raw materials and for the development of our service sector including human resource development,” he said.

He extended an invitation to a representative of the Forum to participate in further discussions with Caribbean leaders at the 9th Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Caribbean Community leaders in Grenada next March. Last July at the XVIII Meeting of Conference of the Heads of Government at Montego Bay, Jamaica, the Hon Nathan Shamuyarira, Minister of Industry and Commerce addressed Caribbean leaders as a representative of the then Chairman of the OAU, Zimbabwe President, His Excellency Robert Mugabe.

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