President Clinton met Saturday on this island nation with the leaders of 15 Caribbean countries, promising freer trade and receiving assurances of more help in fighting illegal drugs.
But Clinton did not win support for a proposed American solution to a dispute over bananas that has pitted him against what he called his “fellow Caribbean leaders.”
Although they signed a polite joint statement to continue negotiations over bananas, the Caribbean leaders indicated that they would continue resisting a U.S. effort to eliminate a trade preference that Caribbean bananas have in Europe.
At a two-hour meeting at a conference center near here, the leaders came to terms on a series of joint steps, embodied in a 30-page document that they signed at a ceremony on the windswept, emerald lawn of the prime minister’s residence.
Clinton, who is is here on the last stop of his three-country tour, called the agreement “a broad and ambitious plan of action.”
More than in Mexico or Costa Rica, the president’s previous stops, administration officials expected pointed criticism of U.S. policies here, on issues from trade to immigration to Cuba and illegal drugs. They were not disappointed.
The Caribbean leaders expressed satisfaction with the summit meeting, and praised Clinton as the first American president to attend such a conference here. But in marked contrast to the solidarity shown at Clinton’s two other multinational news conferences over the last week, disagreements over bananas, immigration and Cuba were evident.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica, the chairman of the Caribbean Community, referred to these differences.
“In the closest of families, difficulties are bound to arise from time to time in their relationships,” he said. The leaders did not resolve their disagreement over what Patterson called “the issue of bananas.”
Caribbean nations are alarmed over U.S. efforts, through the World Trade Organization, to overturn an agreement guaranteeing Caribbean banana farmers a share of the European Union market and imposing quotas on bananas from Central and South America. A preliminary judgment by the trade organization in March supported Washington’s view that the preference unfairly restricts U.S. companies’ access.
Without the preference, the independent banana growers fear that they will not be able to compete with giant companies like Chiquita Brands.
“For many of our countries, bananas are to us what cars are to Detroit,” Patterson said.