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Australian government showing commitment to Caribbean region

Australian government showing commitment to Caribbean region


The Australian Government is commited to providing assistance to St Vincent and the Grenadines, and by extension the Caribbean region.{{more}}

This was the message by the Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, who visited this country last Thursday, February 2.

His visit to this country was part of a tour of the region in an effort to expand Australia’s relationship with the region, and comes after the signing of a memorandum of understanding for an aid package valued AUS$60 million for four years.

“It forms part of a view that we have, that the issues faced by island nations around the world are ones that they have in common and Australia has had a long standing working relationship with small island states, particularly in the Pacific,” Marles said.

But there are also strong cultural ties between the Caribbean and Australia, he pointed out, in that they are part of the Commonwealth, and we play cricket.

“And so there is a reason for us to be there to support small island states. We think we have something to offer in terms of our experience with small island states, and if you’re working with small island states, then there must be a presence here in the Caribbean,” he contended.

His trip here included visits with Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and other government officials, as well as a visit to Bequia, where a number of projects have already benefitted from the relationship with Australia.

The latest project will be the installation of a solar-powered desalination unit, which according to Marles is expected to provide water security to that Grenadine Island.

“It is an island that has been water stressed over the last few years. This is going to mean that once the project is completed that the water issue would be solved,” he explained.

It is also an example of how the issue of water security can be addressed among the islands in the Pacific, and as Marles explained, is an example of how the issues facing small island developing states are common.

“And I think as a country that has worked closely with them, then we have something to talk about,” Marles said.

While traditional donors will remain an important source of income to the region, Marles said that it was his country’s experience working with small island states that was the main driving force behind the assistance.

Marles said that his discussion with the prime minister was centred around issues related to education, among other things, but the focus of the assistance from that country was on issues related to climate change, sustainable tourism and disaster management.

“Climate change is very present, and there are countries under threat by the sea, and it is happening right now,” he said.

Proper resource management, vital for sustainable tourism, and disaster management were also issues affecting developing island states in the Pacific, and it was with the experiences of working with these states that Marles said that led to the conclusion that his country might be able to do something between the Pacific and the Caribbean.

“It is not a one way street. I have seen some things here, where the Caribbean is way ahead of the Pacific, and I think that the Pacific has much to learn from the experiences here, and I think Australia as well.”

Another pillar of the relationship, according to Marles, was the issue of economic resilience, saying that there were some similarities in the economies of the region and that of the Pacific islands.

He touched on sports tourism, saying that the Caribbean and Australia share a common passion for cricket, and that the two can work together to develop a sport policy.

With respect to trade issues, Marles acknowledged that Australia was not one of the region’s trading partners, but spoke of the kind of relationship that can be fostered, which according to him, included some grass root types of initiatives.

One such was the issue of remittances.

Marles said that Australia had advocated to the World Trade Organization (WTO) during the last set of discussions in December 2011 that banking fees associated with remittances was too high.

“We have been pushing projects through the WTO to try to get the banking sector in small developing countries to reduce the cost of remittances, because that can make a big difference to small island economies,” he said.

That is not a direct trade agreement, he said, but it entailed bringing experience they have to try to make a difference.

He said that his government was overall pleased with how the money has been spent on local projects.

The library project in Bequia, while being a small project, is being put to good use as the people of that island are benefitting from it, Marles said.

It is an example of the kind of projects that his government will be taking on, he explained.

The next step in the relationship was to ensure that the money was being allocated and that projects were ongoing and are making a difference.

“We take pride, the Australian government. We do what we say. If we are going to make a commitment, then we actually follow through whatever that commitment is,” Marles said.

The relationship is coming off a solid base, he said, as the two regions have been very good friends.

“This is a very easy part of the world for us to operate,” he said, adding that the people of both regions were pretty laid back, we enjoy our cricket and that was a good start. (DD)