The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

Do­minica, Saint Lu­cia and St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines are among a se­lect few Is­land coun­tries that have inked Schen­gen visa waiver Agree­ments with the Euro­pean Union at a sign­ing cer­e­mony in Brussels.

This sig­nif­i­cant step in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Eastern Caribbean and the EU and its Mem­ber States sig­nals a re­newed step to­ward greater peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tact, travel to ini­ti­ate greater trade and in­vest­ment flows as well as in­creased tourism be­tween both re­gions.

Do­minica’s Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs and CARICOM Af­fairs, Hon­ourable Francine Baron noted that the freer travel be­tween both re­gions is a “sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment as it re­flects the con­fi­dence and com­fort that the EU has in Do­minica.” She also noted its rel­e­vance given the closer in­te­gra­tion with French Over­seas Re­gions (ORs)in the Eastern Caribbean.

Sign­ing the agree­ment on be­half of the Gov­ern­ment of Saint Lu­cia was the Hon­ourable Min­is­ter for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, Alva Bap­tiste who wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity “to re­move visa par­ti­tions that di­vided our coun­tries that al­lows them to par­tic­i­pate in the global econ­omy and fa­cil­i­tates cul­tural ex­changes, in­vest­ment and tourism.”

Am­bas­sador for the Eastern Caribbean States, Dr. Len Ish­mael, rep­re­sent­ing the Gov­ern­ment of St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines, em­pha­sized that “St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines, though a Small Is­land State, is a coun­try of big char­ac­ter and a big heart and the visa waiver will open the doors to a world ripe with prom­ise.” Am­bas­sador Ish­mael also noted that the agree­ment ‘re­cip­ro­cates ar­range­ments that had been in place to fa­cil­i­tate the travel of EU cit­i­zens; all a strong tes­ti­mony to a ma­tur­ing re­la­tion­ship.”

With th­ese lat­est rounds of Schen­gen visa waivers, all OECS Mem­ber States have now been granted visa-free ac­cess to the Schen­gen area, which com­prises all EU Mem­ber States ex­cept the United King­dom and Ire­land. Sep­a­rate Agree­ments must be signed with non-EU Schen­gen States such as Switzer­land, Licht­en­stein and Nor­way. Sep­a­rate mech­a­nisms must also be pur­sued with France’s ORs. Within the OECS, An­tigua and Bar­buda and St. Kitts and Nevis al­ready en­joy visa-free ac­cess to the Schen­gen area.

The EU side was rep­re­sented by the Par­lia­men­tary State Sec­re­tary for EU Af­fairs in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs of Latvia, H.E. Zanda Kal­nina-Luka­se­vica and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Migration and Home Af­fairs, Dim­itris Avramopo­los, who un­der­scored that he trusts “the Agree­ment will con­trib­ute to strength­en­ing cul­tural ex­changes and peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tact be­tween the EU and the re­spec­tive coun­tries.”

The Schen­gen visa waiver Agree­ments will be pro­vi­sion­ally ap­plied as from 28th May 2015, fol­low­ing which all par­ties will pro­ceed with the process of rat­i­fi­ca­tion. The visa-free travel al­lows en­trance into the Schen­gen area for any 90 days in a 180 day pe­riod.

The lob­by­ing, ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­al­iza­tion of the Agree­ment for the Eastern Caribbean were led by the Am­bas­sador and diplo­matic staff of the joint Mission of the Eastern Caribbean States in Brussels, which rep­re­sents the Com­mon­wealth of Do­minica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lu­cia and St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines.

This agree­ment au­gurs well for the tra­di­tion­ally dy­namic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Euro­pean Union and the Caribbean, and builds on other bi-re­gional ini­ti­atves such as the Cariforum-EU Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment and the joint Caribbean-EU Part­ner­ship Strat­egy; all of which aim to en­hance the strate­gic bi-re­gional part­ner­ship at dif­fer­ent lev­els.

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