By Marie-Claire Williams
BRUSSELS, Belgium, CMC – Five Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries were among seven member states of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries that have signed visa waiver agreements with the European Union on Thursday.
The signings took place between the EU, and Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Pacific Islands of Samoa and Vanuatu on the fringes of the ACP-EU Ministerial Council being held here over the next two days.
Under the agreement, citizens of these countries will no longer require a visa to travel to the countries of the European Union for a period of 90 days during any six-month period, while the same conditions apply to EU nationals travelling to these countries.
Negotiations began in 2012, after the European Commission proposed to exempt citizens of 16 Caribbean and Pacific countries from visa requirements when travelling the Schengen area.
“I trust this agreement will strongly contribute to strengthening trade relations, cultural exchange, as well as people to people contacts between Europe and the Caribbean and Pacific regions,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship.
Citizens from the EU and the signatory countries must possess a valid passport in order to benefit from the agreement, which applies to all categories of people travelling for tourism, cultural visits, family visits and business. They are, however, prohibited from undertaking any kind of paid activity during their stay.
Eastern Caribbean Ambassador to Belgium and Europe, Dr. Len Ishmael, who signed on behalf of St Vincent and the Grenadines, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) the new agreement presents potential opportunities for citizens of those countries to engage in business to business contacts, as well as seek trade and investment opportunities.
“These are opportunities which previously we didn’t have open to us. And of course, as has been in part of our own region, part of the ECS region that I represent and part of the OECS as well, times have been very difficult.
“So wherever opportunities are presented to us to be able to forge ahead, knock on doors, to be able to avail ourselves of opportunities for education, for investment, and whatever the challenges are, it just means that it’s a good day and we’re in a good place and time,” Ishmael told CMC.
Dominica’s Foreign Minister Francine Baron says it also signals a deepening of the relations between the Eastern Caribbean states and their neighbours, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
“For the OECS this is particularly significant as we are now witnessing greater integration with the French Territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and Martinique has recently become a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
“Notwithstanding the fact that these territories are not covered under the agreement, as territories of an EU country it represents the desire to foster closer relationships with OECS countries,” Baron said.
St Lucia’s Foreign Minister, Alva Baptiste said Thursday marked the forward movement in the region’s relationship with the EU.
“I welcome the opportunity for us to remove the visa partitions that divided our various countries to give our people greater access as they want to participate in a global economy,” he said.
The agreements will now be sent to the European Parliament for its consent before they can be concluded. However, they will apply on a provisional basis as of May 28.
The EU said two EU member countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom, will not be subjected to the agreement, in accordance with the protocols annexed to the EU treaties. The visa regimes of those countries remain subject to their national laws.