Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says he supports the efforts of Martinique to become an associate member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Gonsalves, who visited Martinique last week, told Parliament that a series of areas of functional cooperation between the French Overseas Department and the sub-regional bloc has been identified.
He mentioned education and health, trade, equity participation in LIAT, and an extension to all OECS citizens, the privilege of being able to travel to Martinique and by extension to Guadeloupe for up 15 days without a visa.
That travel provision is now enjoyed by citizens of Dominica and St. Lucia, because of the history of the relationship between those countries.
“And this will fit in well with the Schengen visa waiver, which is being supported by the European Union, the European Commission and is winding its way through all the formal processes of the European Union system,” Gonsalves told Parliament this week.
He, however, noted that the Schengen visa waiver doesn’t necessarily mean that OECS nationals “will get to Martinique and Guadeloupe,” adding, “There has to be some special arrangement.”
Gonsalves visited Martinique this month to take part in bilateral discussion with the President of the Regional Council of Martinique, Serge Letchimy, and to attend the regional energy conference.
While in Fort-de-France, in addition to the discussions with Letchimy and his staff, Gonsalves also addressed the country’s national assembly.
He said that during his chairmanship just over a year ago, Martinique applied to become an associate member of the OECS and both sides established negotiating teams.
Those teams have had some meetings and the report will be presented to the meeting of the OECS Authority in Montserrat on Nov. 20 & 21.
Gonsalves noted that while Martinique is an overseas department of France, the OECS has a particular relationship with Europe, through the Economic Partnership Agreement.
“Martinique is part of the Caribbean civilisation. The Caribbean civilisation has different institutional expressions, politically. Martinique is very interested in finding a particular expression for its Caribbeanness while, at the same time, maintaining clearly, a particular relationship with France, from which it derives other benefits,” Gonsalves told lawmakers.
“It is unfortunate that many, maybe most people in the region, think of Martinique as a French overseas department, colonial relationship, but forget about them,” he said.
Gonsalves, however, noted that Martinique has a population of 400,000 people — more than any country in the OECS, and 130,000 persons more than Barbados.
He noted that within CARICOM, only Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana are more populous.
He also noted that at 1,100 square kilometres, Martinique is larger than any of the OECS countries and Barbados.
“So, there is a great potential and we have to reach out in the different areas in the way that we are reaching out in Latin America, keeping our strong friendship with Europe and North America, reaching out to South America, deepening our Caribbean integration.
“We have to go to other Caribbean countries which are not part of the OECS or CARICOM as we broaden our other relationship internationally,” Gonsalves said.
“Mr. Speaker, we have to be always flexible and creative in the kinds of relationships which we have formed,” he added.
He noted that the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia are seeking to form a pacific trading partnership and discussions are on the table for a transatlantic trade and investment partnership between Western Europe, Canada and the United States.
“If that comes about, it is more than 50 per cent of world trade between those two blocs. The point I am making, we always have to be on the lookout to enlarge the spaces in which we have to function.
“And to that extent, the emerging relationship with Martinique and the OECS is a very, very important one. The legislators in Martinique were very pleased that I was there, so was the French prefect,” Gonsalves said noting that the former Sarkozy administration and the current Hollande government in Paris have given the formal go ahead for Fort-de-France to approach the OECS to deepen the functional relationship with the sub-region.
“The young people can look forward to increased relationships in sports and culture, in addition to those of education,” Gonsalves said.