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Australian and Caribbean Affairs: The Ties That Bind

By Anne Pillsbury Created: June 4, 2012 Last Updated: June 5, 2012
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OPINION

Speaking on April 25 at the Australian Consulate in New York, the Australian CEO of The Dow Chemical Company Andrew Liveris described the “ethos of New Australia”: “Simply put, the world came to Australia and changed it. Now Australia can go out and change the world.

“We sit at the crossroads of the Pacific … we recognise that we have to look beyond our own continent—and we do. And from broadband lines to trade relationships, we are plugged into the world at large—especially the Pacific region, but well beyond that as well.”

Indeed, the business of Australia’s foreign service reaches all the way to the Western Hemisphere.
Hard at work, Australia has positioned itself to be partners in Caribbean development into the 21st century.

While connections between The Caribbean and Australia extend back to the early days of European settlement, its formal diplomatic ties are somewhat recent.

In 1974, they became official with the opening of Australia’s first diplomatic mission in Jamaica. In 2004, the embassy was relocated to Trinidad and Tobago.

According to a Department of Foreign Affairs brief, The Trinidad and Tobago High Commission, under The Hon Philip Kentwell, has friendly relations with and is “accredited to 14 Caribbean states—Antigua and Barbuda; The Bahamas; Barbados; Grenada; Haiti; Jamaica; St Kitts and Nevis; St Lucia; St Vincent; Belize; Trinidad and Tobago,” among others.

“Working together to address the serious degradation that our coral reefs are facing is a great example of the partnership Australia is forging with the Caribbean community,” disclosed a 2011 Foreign Ministry media release.

The Caribbean Sea has an intricate, bio diverse marine system similar to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

This July, Belize and Australia co-host the “International Coral Reef Initiative” in Cairns, according to a May announcement by Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Richard Marles.

Last year, The Australian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago sponsored the seminar “Climate Change in the Caribbean” in conjunction with their British counterpart in Barbados.

Australian Foreign Service missions also assist in the interdiction of clandestine traffic across regional waters. Transnational crime continues to be a concern in the Caribbean.

In January 2011, Australia hosted an Arms Trade Treaty workshop with Trinidad and Tobago. This high-level discussion centred on “regulating the illicit and irresponsible transfer of conventional weapons”.

AUSTRAL, a Perth shipping company and eminent Australian Defence contractor, has seized on the demand for specialised sea craft.

Its 2011 corporate press release reveals AUSTRAL has supplied fast patrol boats for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, plus several high-speed catamarans.

Working in co-operation with the US and regional players, the “Caribbean Basin Security Initiative” focuses on equipping local law enforcement with methods to disrupt activities that threaten regional security.

A November 2011 US Department of State fact sheet states that CBSI provides “training on techniques for intercepting smuggled narcotics, weapons, bulk cash and other contraband at commercial airports and seaports”.

With wider engagement on the horizon, Australia opened a consulate in The Bahamas in February 2011, appointing Caroline Moncur as Honorary Consul.

In contrast to the Asia-Pacific, Australia and the Bahamas entertain a modest trade relationship totalling approximately $A4.5 million.

Australian exports of beef and wine have been targeted as sought-after products for the tourism sector, which accounts for 60 per cent of the Bahamian economy.

Due to the value of customs revenues from tourist dollars, the Australian Government established a financial intelligence unit in the Bahamas. It operates as a tracker-regulator for money launderers and tax evaders.

In recent years, the Caribbean has been hit by natural disasters that have decimated communities and damaged infrastructure. This has placed immense burdens on their peoples and governments.
Haiti’s earthquake in January 2010 crushed most of Port au Prince. Its rehabilitation has been a slow, painful process.

The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) has committed “$A60 million of portfolio development assistance to the region” for 2012-2014.

Sport is a national avocation in Australia and Aussies compete on the world stage with a passion. This same spirit is promoted through ASOP—the Australian Sports Outreach Programme.

The Commonwealth Games, casual cricket and competitive test matches with the West Indies are additional partnerships in sport.

With such big players as the US and China in the Pacific region, why is Australia, which is half-way around the world, invested and endeavouring to ramp up interests in the Caribbean?
Because they are friends.

Anne Pillsbury has lived in Sydney, and travelled throughout Australia and parts of the Caribbean.
Her grandfather immigrated to Australia in the early 1900s.

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