~ Aruba, Caribbean Netherlands to follow ~
Colombians travelling to Curaçao and St. Maarten no longer will need visas as of July 1, 2015, writes The Daily Herald.
Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands reached an agreement on this in Curaçao on Tuesday. The four countries decided to grant a visa exemption for Colombia, valid for Curaçao and St. Maarten, in anticipation of a possible future exemption for Europe’s Schengen Area and in light of the harmonisation of the Dutch Carib bean visa policy. The decision to allow Colombians to travel to the two countries will be evaluated in July 2016.
The visa exemption for Colombians travelling to Aruba and the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will go into effect once a visa exemption for these islands for the Schengen Area has been implemented. Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs told reporters at a press conference hosted jointly with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders in St. Maarten on Wednesday that the lifting of the visa requirements for Colombians was for economic and tourism reasons. “Not too long ago Curaçao requested visa requirements for Colombians and the country feels that, at this time, seeing the economic development and seeing the amount of Colombians who are travelling, the economy is doing well,” Gumbs said. “There are a lot of tourists and a lot of economic activities now taking place [in Colombia – Ed.]. The economy of Colombia is the fastest-growing economy in South America next to Brazil, so there is obviously a need felt by the governments of St. Maarten and Curaçao to have a better trading relationship and also look at tourism.” Gumbs said too that with Copa Airlines going through Panama, “there are a lot of flights coming up with seats available and a lot of interest for Colombians to travel as tourists and that is the reason to lift the visa requirement.” He said “like any other country,” visa requirements are introduced when authorities believe there is a need for them and lifted when “you feel there is a need for economic development for your own country to attract tourists and make it easier for people to travel.” He said the Council of Ministers in St. Maarten had made a unanimous decision requesting that the visa requirement be lifted. While Gumbs said government did not intend to lift the visa requirements for any other countries, Koenders said other countries were under consideration, but it was “not wise” to name these countries before the firm decision was taken. Asked how many other countries were under consideration, Koenders said: “You can imagine that other countries in Latin America are in the same process of economic developments in which liberalisation might be the next step, but it would be unwise to name these countries, as they also have to be involved.” He said visa liberalisation was not an easy decision, as there were benefits and risks, which included illegal labour. Colombians may not automatically travel on to Schengen countries via Curaçao and St. Maarten, as this requires separate agreements between the Dutch Caribbean countries and the European Union (EU), something the countries hope to achieve in the course of next year.
The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders. Koenders first announced the decision to exempt Colombia from the visa obligation at a press conference in Curaçao on Tuesday following the Kingdom Consultation Foreign Relations with the Prime Ministers of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. Koenders visited St. Maarten on Wednesday. Koenders also stated at the press conference that as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the entire Kingdom he stood for the interests of all countries. “Together we give content to our foreign relations. That is why it is important that I maintain intensive contact with the Caribbean countries of the Kingdom,” he said. About the meeting with the three prime ministers, he said: “This Kingdom Consultation is the moment of the year to talk about the most important issues in the area of foreign relations. Unity in foreign policy is essential to serve the interests of the kingdom, including those of the Caribbean countries.” Because they are part of the Kingdom, the Dutch Caribbean countries cannot make use of many international development funds. However, as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) they do have specific development issues. Koenders said the Kingdom internationally recognised the special position and circumstances of small island states and was making an effort in negotiations to get the special circumstances of these small island states in the sustainable development targets of the United Nations (UN). He further said at a press conference in Curaçao that the Kingdom was hoping to acquire a seat in the United Nations Security Council in 2017. “This is definitely a candidature of the entire Kingdom. The four countries of the Kingdom are campaigning together to become a member of the UN Security Council. That is why we have as motto: Kingdom of the Netherlands, One Kingdom – Four Countries; European and Caribbean.”