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EDITORIAL: Let public in on foreign policy talks


EDITORIAL: Let public in on foreign policy talks

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OH, WHAT A PITY! This is perhaps the nicest way to describe the continued absence of discussion of this island’s foreign policy by the Government, whether in Parliament or public fora. The issues generally remain under the radar and have been relegated to mere academic interest.

After almost three years into its second term, the ruling Democratic Labour Party has failed to lead major discussion on foreign policy. Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean could have done so in the Upper House. With the Estimates debate weeks away, the public can only anticipate that there will be some detailed debate on foreign policy. 

A bad situation has been made worse given the apathy of the Barbados Labour Party on the issue. The Opposition is apparently too occupied with the many domestic issues on its agenda which take priority.

To boot, despite the many presentations, discussions and colloquia, held across the island weekly, very little is given to discussing issues of foreign policy. Amongst the private sector, non-governmental organisations, the university, the trade unions, the nonchalant, the attitude is the same.

Yet, there are issues ranging from the Economic Partnership Agreement and the exploitation of available opportunities, to the challenges facing blacks in the Dominican Republic which are ripe for debate. But it is generally ignored and this should not be so.

Admittedly, foreign policy issues may not be alluring but can impact the ordinary citizen in much the same way domestic issues do. But Government, more so Senator McClean, has not set the tone for public debate in this area has not even sought to give regular briefs on the major issues relating to both foreign trade and diplomatic relations.  

The public needs to be in on the discussion. At least knowing what is happening, whether at its missions in Geneva, Brussels, Havana or any of the other locations. Indeed, a simple understanding of how we vote and the positions we take on various issues ought to be made public.

Foreign policy issues come alive when the public realises that the policies instituted in Canada which impact workers in the Farm Labour Programme or those in the hospitality industry are detrimental to their interest, and the role our diplomats and Government must play to defend that interest.

As we develop close relationships with China given the economic strings, there ought to be the discussion on our role with India, set to be the powerhouse in another 20 years. There are many things we share in common which suggest we cannot ignore that emerging giant. To Latin America we must also look as we shift our focus in building new economic bridges and exploiting opportunities whether in trade or job creation.

Our traditional approach to diplomacy will not yield results in an ever-changing world. At the same time, the public’s interest must be stirred on issues which affect them.