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Britain hopes to improve relations with the Caribbean

HOPES: Government wants a 'modern UK-Caribbean relationship'

UK SECRETARY of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague, is due in the Caribbean later this week hoping to bring relations with the region 'more into the 21st century'.

Hague will be leading a delegation to a three-day UK-Caribbean ministerial forum which begins in Grenada on Friday.

The Secretary of State said it emphasises the importance London attaches to the "enduring friendship with the Caribbean, and of our desire to use the forum to mark a step change in our relationship.

"We believe this will herald a transition to a more modern, dynamic, and forward-looking affiliation," he said, noting that he was not looking towards throwing "away all of the strong bonds that tie the UK and the region together."

He said that a "modern UK-Caribbean relationship" should be built around three principles, including a relationship of equals that sets the right tone for the 21st century focusing on shared history and culture as well as shaping the new global agenda.

"We already do this on climate change where we worked together successfully at Durban and the Commonwealth where we achieved a successful CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meting) in Perth last autumn.

He said there was also need for a dynamic partnership that delivers real benefits for citizens of both regions.

"This means continuing and strengthening our efforts to make our streets safer by tackling the problems of drug and violent crime that blight all of our communities. It also means sharing ideas about how we can make our economies resilient to global shocks and create jobs for our young people."

Focusing on the issues

Hague said a development programme worth £75 million (US$114.9 million) over four years was focusing on those issues. "It is imperative that the agreements we come to this weekend result in a brighter future for the next generation," said the Secretary of State.

He emphasised that the United Kingdom's relationship with the Caribbean should be a broad-based partnership that involves business, civil society and ordinary people.

Among the British delegation is Nick Baird, chief executive of UK Trade & Investment, who will lead a discussion with a UK and Caribbean businesses.

"This year also provides an unprecedented opportunity for peoples of the UK and Caribbean to come together - in marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago celebrating 50 years of independence, and in cheering on our athletes at the London 2012 Olympics," he said.

Caribbean countries have already signalled their intention to raise the issue of the controversial Air Passenger Duty (APD) that observers say leaves the Caribbean's relations with the United Kingdom in a difficult position.

The UK has increased the rates to all Caribbean countries which regional governments say will severely affect their tourism industries. The tax on economy long-haul flights of more than 6,000 miles will rise from £85 (US$132) to £92 (US$143) per person.

St Kitts-Nevis Tourism Minister and Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Ricky Skerritt has described the British position as "a slap in the face of the Caribbean," noting that "it contradicts the message sent by the UK Chancellor in March 2011 when he cited the discrepancy between US and Caribbean APD rates as one of the reasons for holding a consultation on reform of UK APD".

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