by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The 72nd Meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority was hosted in the Associate member state, Montserrat, on October 19.
The chairmanship was handed over to the Premier of Montserrat, Hon. Easton Taylor-Farrell.
The outgoing Chairman was past Grenada Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Dr Keith Mitchell.
At the opening ceremony of the 72nd Meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority, the emerging theme was regional integration, a cornerstone of the OECS and the revised Treaty of Basseterre (2010), which made provisions for an economic union among the Member States.
Didacus Jules, the Director General of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, says the meetings are a testament to the region’s vision.
“The big lesson from these past two years of adversity is that the future cannot be taken for granted; that the opportunities of the present should not be overlooked, and the lessons of the past should never be forgotten. While it is indisputable that we have been buffeted by crisis after crisis and disaster after disaster, as unrelenting waves of catastrophe over which we have no control, it is also true that we cannot ascribe all of this to forces beyond us. We must take stock of our own sins of omission and our failure to do the things that are not just possible but are necessary to build resilience.”
The Director General said the current global challenges provide the region with bold transformation opportunities; “a chance to go faster, do better, be bolder and be stronger together”.
Jules outlines five strategic priorities and their cross-cutting themes that would be the focus of the meeting to be tackled by the member states over six years.
“Accelerating regional integration, reinventing the economy, valuing the environment, building resilience, advancing equity and inclusion. Cross-cutting themes undergirding these priorities include youth empowerment, partnerships, gender equity, and innovation. There are some initiatives that are already addressing these priorities. We are sure that even without its detailed definition, the citizen in the street, as well as persons of all persuasions and strata, after having experienced the concurrent crises of the past five years, can intuitively understand how these priorities interact and intersect. None of these priorities can be fully achieved without each contributing to the other.”
One critical area is the issue of air, sea and internet connectivity, three highways that will enable regional integration to assume meaning and deliver tangible benefits to the OECS. Jules said several proposals are on the table for resolution, and he remains confident that regional travel would make a strong comeback.
“This situation is an opportunity to create a network for travel. Imagine what affordable and reliable air and sea connectivity linking the entire chain on the archipelago can do for school excursions, festivals and fete followers, hucksters and small traders, [and] entrepreneurs doing business in the single economic space. Free and constant movement in our regional space invigorates our economies in the same way that we are told physical movement benefits our bodies.”
Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell reaffirmed his country’s commitment to regional integration outlining the global situation, a pandemic, tensions between countries and climate change as an opportunity to look inward to the region and work on strengthening as one region.
“Colleagues, if ever there was a time to band together as small island nations, this is the time. These global events notwithstanding, the ills that they are brought have also left us with a clarity of purpose and an opportunity, indeed, an urgency to leverage our regional integration movement more optimally.
Increasingly, the global economy asks of us as small states to compete equally with countries and regions many times our size; the collective population within our economic union of approximately 620,000 people, while still smaller than local towns of some developed and developing countries, provides us with exponentially greater opportunities for economic advancement. A renewed commitment to accelerate the implementation of the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union is at this time essential and must be seen equally as part of the menu of national policy responses to our development challenges.”
The Grenadian Prime Minister said the region has yet to truly capitalise on intraOECS trading goods and services and the developmental opportunities to be derived from the intraOECS investments to ease financial transactions such as setting up bank accounts, purchasing land or accessing immoveable assets, which he says are urgently needed.
St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister, Honourable Dr Terrance Michael Drew, Minister of Finance, National Security, Citizenship and Immigration, Health and Social Security, gave his maiden address to the OECS Authority.
In his speech, the Prime Miniter says that while the OECS has achieved gains in regional integration, the body should seek to expand regional integration.
“I urge us to take the subject of joint representation to a higher level and make the necessary decisions to enable us to reap the rewards to be derived from [an] increased level of engagement. It is difficult for us to achieve our development objectives if we ignore the challenges posed by the proverbial elephant-in-the-room, glaring gaps in our Inter-regional transportation sector. An efficient and sustainable transportation system will yield benefits for investment, trade and movement of people; two pillars of our regional integration movement.”
The 72nd Meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority is hosted in Montserrat from October 19 – 20.