Jamaica and Cuba, again on widely divergent political routes, are both courting Canada -- a mutual friend -- for more of its investment funds and technology.
Jamaica, which returned last November to a private-enterprise-oriented economy, is on a determined world search for much of the foreign investment denied the previous, socialist prime minister, Michael Manley, with Canada as an anticipated major source.
Cuba's Marxist economy is much less interested in investment per se than in technology-sharing from Canada. Plant redesign and modernization will be necessary to help build up an economy severely weakened by tobacco and cattle diseases and the enormous cost of Fidel Castro's large foreign adventures in Africa and the Middle East.
In April of this year, very high-level teams of both Jamaican and Cuban officials were in Toronto at the same time. Neither one admitted to the presence of the other, even though they held separate downtown hotel-based seminars only a taxi ride apart.
Both groups of visiting delegates from Kingston and Havana spoke to their Canadian hosts -- who are mainly executives from companies that have already done business in their islands -- of the long and unbroken trade ties between the two countries.
The message of these Caribbean visitors from competing economic and political systems was that Canada remains, as in the past, politically speaking "neutral ground," the best kind for doing business.
Jamaica -- or "the New Jamaica," as the island likes to call itself these days -- may stand to gain more from increased Canadian tourist and trade flow than Cuba will from Canadian technology-sharing. In 1980, however, the pattern had worked in Cuba's favor.
That year, Canadian tourists had abandoned Jamaica in droves when violence and street shootings escalated at the end of the Manley era and safety for foreign investment was not assured.
Canadian exports to Cuba in 1980, on the other hand, jumped to a record $400 million (Canadian), up about 50 percent from the mid-1970s.
This figure does not include further earnings from the continued flow of Canada tourists to Cuba, a record 20,000 last year. They like the no-frills version of the Cuban Caribbean holiday in state-owned hotels and state-controlled beaches and tourist sites.
But the Cubans seemed more eager to increase trade, given the fact that an end to the already 20-year-long American blockade of their island seems as distant as ever with the strongly anti-Castro Reagan administration in power.
This means, as during the 1960s and '70s, that Canada will continue to be Cuba's only major source for North American-style machinery, tooling, plant design, and management techniques.
Since the stakes are high for both Caribbean island economies, the visiting teams here were made up of top-level administrative and engineering talent.
The Cuban delegation was led by Raul Talladrid, the distinguished director of his country's vital purchases of goods and services from "nonsocialist industrial countries," and a team of professionals from selected state enterprises.
These range from plants for plate glass and medical supplies to capital goods and natural resources producers in nickel mining, sugar production, and deep-sea fishing.
Mr. Talladrid's team, including a major component from Cuba's large trade office in Montreal, was mostly composed of younger Cubans trained in the state universities and technical colleges built during the 22-year-old Cuban revolution. These younger executives tend to be keen, competitive, and eager to do business.
Jamaica's delegation, including heads of the Kingston Free Port and trade development and private investment corporations, was under the charge of Deputy Prime Minister Hugh Shearer, who was Jamaica's prime minister before Manley took over in 1972.