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May 27, 1999



Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur and Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell on Thursday emerged from meetings with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Clinton’s Special Advisor Bob McKay, upbeat about prospects for a "special tariff-based quota system" as a compromise to settle the banana dispute with the Caribbean fruit at the center.

The long-running US-European Union trade dispute led earlier this year to World Trade Organization (WTO) rulings striking down EU preferential regimes to buy Caribbean bananas under special arrangements set up for former African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) colonies. Caribbean countries insist their already vulnerable economies stand to suffer big loses from the decision.

Fresh from their visits with the top U.S. officials, the Prime Ministers in an interview at the Organization of American States (OAS) Radio described the meetings as "very constructive." The Grenadian leader said he believed the discussions "would have set in train an atmosphere for reasonable compromise." Both leaders reiterated to Albright the Caribbean willingness to play its part to ensure that the rules of international trade and application of those rules "respect the special circumstances of the small, vulnerable economies of the Caribbean."

According to Dr. Mitchell, there was broad consensus that a compromise could be worked out on the two major issues—bananas and the state of the region’s relation’s with the world’s lone superpower, under the Bridgetown Accord. Mr. Arthur said the meetings were in essence intended to address concerns that those relations were "not as cordial and productive as they should be."

The Caribbean leaders also referred to the need for further meetings to continue the discussions to decide whether the OAS could be among forums to continue to take up the banana issue.

In the interview conducted by Voice of the OAS Radio host Von Martin, the Prime Ministers touched on several other important issues, including Caribbean priority interests in the upcoming OAS General Assembly session to be held in Guatemala June 6 to 8, the proposed Caribbean single market, political developments, freedom of expression, illegal drug activities and the regional and sub-regional unity.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Trade and Industries of Belize, and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Deputy Secretary-General Byron Blake, also addressed a number of issues that were raised.