GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — Caribbean Community (Caricom) trade and economic ministers are ending a two-day meeting here on Wednesday amidst a warning that the organs of the regional integration movement must adopt a greater sense of urgency and clarity of purpose if the region is to successfully navigate the current difficult circumstances.
Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who has led responsibility for the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), told the 52nd regular meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) that if ever the region needed to see progress, it was now, and that the Caribbean needed to rely heavily on integration and cooperation.
The CSME allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.
“If ever there was a time that the region needs to rely on regional cooperation and regional integration, it is absolutely now within the context of what we are going to face in the post-pandemic period, and we are not yet there but we can begin to see already what it is looking like,” Mottley said, highlighting the possibility of emerging debt and financial crises “if we are not careful”.
She told the meeting of the “double-digit declines” of countries, pointing out that there was need now for “a greater sense of urgency and greater clarity of purpose by the organs of the Community, in particular, COTED.”
Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, who is chairing the virtual meeting, made reference to the period of heightened challenges in which the COTED was being held.
She cited the economic stress occasioned by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, vaccine inequity, vulnerability to negative impacts of climate change and natural disasters and the devastating effects of the eruption of La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“In the face of these realities, the imperative of focused recovery is clear. We must ensure that our collective efforts to empower our citizens and continue the process of transforming our community through trade and development opportunities. We owe this to future generations,” Johnson Smith said, referring also to the mixed fortunes of the CSME and pointing out that there was room for “much improvement” in the rate of its implementation.
The meeting is discussing a wide range of issues including the CSME; matters related to trade in goods; the implementation of the Multilateral Air Services Agreement and developments at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Johnson Smith said that the WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will join the meeting on Wednesday for discussions on pressing issues on the multilateral trade front.
“The Director-General will also provide her perspective on access to vaccines “a matter that is clearly a vexed one”, the COTED chair said.
Caricom Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque said the vast mandate of the COTED, is a major driver of the regional integration process.
He said under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which governs Caricom, COTED has responsibility for the CSME, which LaRocque described as “a massive task” that had produced mixed results.
“These times demand that the full implementation of the CSME should be our pre-eminent task. The COVID-19 pandemic has created havoc in our societies – both in economic and human development terms. Lives and livelihoods have been lost; public finances have been curtailed; our health systems have been challenged; and the education of our children has been interrupted.
“In order to face these challenges, we must devote much more attention to building resilience, including into our production systems. The CSME is the platform for transforming the economic structures of Member States, and building the resilience necessary for dealing with the increasing number of external and internal economic shocks,” the Secretary-General told delegates,” LaRocque added.
He told the delegates that progress had been made including the adoption of Protocols on Contingent Rights and on Public Procurement; agreement on Policies on Credit Reporting and on Deposit Insurance; a Food and Nutrition Security Plan and the Strategy for Advancing the CARICOM Agri Foods Agenda was being worked on by a Ministerial Task Force.
In addition, the Multilateral Air Services Agreement is in force and LaRocque spoke of the work of the region’s newest Associate Institution, the Caribbean Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) which had put on the table a plan for reducing the food import bill by 25 percent by 2025, and was actively engaged in the work of the COTED.
“We need now to press on with urgency to complete the full implementation of the CSME. The removal of remaining barriers to intra-regional trade, for example, must be among the priorities. The regime of free movement of skills and persons is how our citizens gauge the effectiveness of integration. The implementation of the agreed-on expansion of categories of skilled workers would help to promote a deeper sense of belonging among our citizens,” he said.
LaRocque said that in order to urgently advance CSME implementation, the COTED had to be “more strategic and senior officials need to meet more often in order to resolve the issues that keep recurring on the agenda among other things.”