Now in its seventh iteration, the Forum unites politicians and business representatives from both regions to look for new ways of working together and to improve ties.
For the first time this year, the Dominican Republic, one of the fastest-growing countries in the area, Haiti and Suriname will also take part, and observers will include British Caribbean Overseas Territories, including Bermuda, Canada, Australia and the USA.
The Foreign Secretary said: “When I became Foreign Secretary I was determined to reinvigorate the UK’s relationships with its partners across the Caribbean. This year’s Forum has afforded me my first opportunity to demonstrate this commitment in concrete terms, by hearing firsthand the value of our relationships and how we can improve them.
“We already work together on a broad range of issues - ranging from counter-narcotics operations and criminal justice reform to climate change and economic development - and the UK has committed to increasing aid to the region by fifty per cent over the next four years to aid growth. We want to strengthen and deepen our cooperation on these and other issues.
“Historically the UK and Caribbean have close ties, but there has been a sense on both sides that the relationship is not delivering. I now want to see a new era beginning, where both sides can share knowledge and expertise and which is characterised by stronger trade relations. This should be a modern partnership based on prosperity and cooperation, and we will continue to work towards this aim.”
Around one and a half million British tourists visited the Caribbean in 2010, and tourism is a key plank of the economy. However, the Forum was set up in part to emphasise other vital links.
2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of independence for both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, two of the UK’s key markets in the region and countries with which the UK works closely on issues around climate change, organised crime and economic development issues.
The UK is a major investor in the Caribbean and recent large investments have included those of BG in Trinidad & Tobago, and Pinewood Studios in the Dominican Republic. There are however more opportunities for this engagement to increase, which is why the Foreign Secretary is being accompanied by Nick Baird, Chief Executive of UK Trade & Investment, and a range of UK and Caribbean businesses.
It is hoped that the meetings taking place in and around the Forum will lead to increased cooperation between businesses and a renewed interest in investment across the region.
The Foreign Secretary also highlighted the opportunities that will be presented by the London Olympics, taking place this year. Olympians, businesses and tourists alike will be able to see what the UK has to offer across the full range of services, giving further prospects for bilateral cooperation between the regions.