PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley’s call for the removal of visa requirements for TT nationals seeking entry to Canada draws attention to the longstanding ties we have – as a country and a region – to that country while also acting as a statement about the need for us to continue to strengthen global ties in light of ominous signs of a world in turmoil.
Speaking at the Caricom heads meeting in Barbados on Tuesday, Rowley directed his remarks at Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne who, in conversations with leaders, had reportedly proposed an annual meeting between Caricom as a block and Canada. Rowley also pledged to further the Caricom Single Market and Economy by bolstering diplomatic staff dedicated to that initiative.
All of these entreaties are welcome and, indeed, long overdue.
Canada is one of this country’s top export destinations, absorbing large percentages of our gas, fertilisers and acyclic alcohols (totalling US$119 million), according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity project. We also depend on Canada for substantial products like iron ore and food.
Collaboration with Canada on prison reform, dating back to 2017, and national security also underlines the closeness of the relationship. That closeness is not surprising given our shared background as Commonwealth nations.
In fact, centuries ago economic and educational links (such as the trade in fish and establishment of missionary schools) had even led some Caribbean figures to muse, both privately and publicly, the possible annexation of this region to Canada. But as historians like Brinsley Samaroo have noted, these proposals never took flight for various social reasons.
Yet if such political fancies never took flight, economic integration still managed to take root. There’s something of a tradition of migration from TT to Canada, with a modern example being the Commonwealth Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme which ran from 1967.
In the year 2014, when 1,015 Trinidadians took part in the scheme to pick fruit in Ontario and Alberta, it was estimated that some 8,145 Caribbean people had participated.
Our students have also long sought education in Canada. And Canadians have often visited this country, worked here, or set up major financial operations. A glimpse at the history of the banking sector will yield some examples.
While brain drain has also been a major concern in the relationship, there is no question that it has shown all the hallmarks of globalisation and the fruitfulness of economic integration.
At a time of walls, of Brexit, of the rise of hateful xenophobia, Rowley’s call runs counter to the signs of retreat into nationalism, hopeful as it is of forging deeper ties – not the closing of doors. We hope Canada is receptive, particularly given the trend of the relaxing of visa requirements in recent years. Forging deeper ties will benefit both economies in the long run.