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Barbados & Latin America
The continued viability of Barbados and its sister islands in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping depends on their ability to make a successful leap from sub-regional to hemispheric integration in as brief a time frame as possible. Both of these, in turn, depend on the creation of a dynamic CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the equally successful negotiation of entry into the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) on terms that take account of the special challenges facing the very small economies of the Hemisphere.
In truth, the shift toward creating a hemispheric economy and, in time, a shared political and social culture is less daunting than many might think. There are, of course, the standard historical, institutional and language issues that are real barriers to the deepening of hemispheric cooperation. Yet, given the extreme mobility of the human capital of the English-speaking Caribbean, many Latin American countries, and certainly North America, continue to be heavily influenced by things Caribbean. Music, food, dance, dress, spoken and written idioms, culture, artistic expression, throughout the Hemisphere, from Brazil and Venezuela in the South to Colombia in Central America and Canada in the North, most in one way or another pay homage to the essence of the Caribbean civilisation.
Translating the vestiges of a history of shared colonial rule into economic integration in this contemporary moment is a process that already has begun. The 1994 Summit of the Americas gave tangible expression to the possibilities by developing a framework for the creation of the FTAA, which calls for all of the Hemisphere's economic integration movements to combine into one huge free trade area by the year 2005. The 1998 Summit, held in Santiago, Chile, launched the FTAA negotiations.
Now economics, more than history or the remnants of intersecting hemispheric cultures, likely will force Barbados and Barbadians to come to terms with their geography. The markets of South and Central America are likely to become more significant to economic well being than in the past. As a cheaper source of imports and as a profitable market for Barbadian goods and services - particularly tourism, financial and cultural services - the countries of MERCOSUR, the Andean Pact and the Central American Common Market are likely to loom large in Barbados' future economic growth.
Moreover, these countries and markets are an essential part of Barbados' strategy for diversifying its economic relationships in order to lessen its dependence on one or two large national markets to which the country maintains historical ties. It is true that developing new markets is both costly and time consuming. Yet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade understands that it is essential to put in place the infrastructure for new directions in trade and investment. Once real economic links are created, deeper cultural and social ties inevitably will follow.
Though Barbados' only diplomatic representation in the Latin America region at the moment is through its embassy in Caracas, expansion of diplomatic and consular representation is being given serious consideration by the Ministry. Currently, however, within the Latin America region, Barbados' principal relationships are with: