UK Minister for Trade and Development Gareth Thomas told Caribbean administrations that next year will be a make or break period for the region in finding a route out of poverty through economic growth.

Speaking in Barbados, Gareth Thomas said there were challenging times ahead for the region as its looks to develop markets beyond the traditional goods of sugar, rum and bananas and look to the huge potential within new areas such as the service sector and niche tourism eco or special interest trips.

Gareth Thomas announced on behalf of the Department for International Development a ?46 million package to help the islands develop more effective ways to trade with Europe and the rest of the world. The funding aims to tackle issues unveiled in research published today by the department which shows that whilst the Caribbean has the natural resources and talent to be a global player, economic growth is slow. ?10 million has been earmarked for a regional development fund to help the area develop a single market economy – a larger EU style domestic market which will be crucial in delivering growth and making local businesses more competitive internationally.

Gareth Thomas said; “Thanks to new trade rules that came into force this year, the region can develop a stronger trading force as a region and make the most of new access to a wealth of new markets in the EU from creating Caribbean food chains to competing within the music or software industries. It has to find more innovative ways to trade beyond traditional exports such as bananas and sugar and look to exporting its talents and developing service sectors such as the insurance and telecoms markets in the region in order to keep moving forward.”

?The funding I have announced will play a catalytic role in reducing poverty levels in this area by creating more jobs, easier ways to trade with other countries and safer places to live.?

The research identifies violent and organised crime, HIV Aids and the effect of climate change on the number of natural disaster as being major barriers to the development and economic success of many parts of the region.

Gareth Thomas is in Barbados to finalise new Economic Partnership Agreements that came into force in January this year that will protect the area?s ability to trade with Europe and give the area the chance to remain competitive against other markets in goods such as fresh fruit. The agreement will enable the area to continue to trade without having to pay tariffs to export and have to keep within certain quotas.

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