GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — Caribbean Community (CARICOM) trade and economic affairs ministers began a two-day meeting here with the issues crucial to the further development of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
“In a little over two months our Heads of Government will be expecting to receive a report card that indicates that the mandates laid out last July in Montego Bay; in Port-of-Spain last December; and in Frigate Bay last February have been fulfilled. Priorities were identified by the Leaders and an Implementation Plan agreed upon,” CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque told the opening ceremony.
He said member states have recommitted fully to the effective implementation of the CSME and agreed to the timelines – short, medium and long-term – set by the Plan.
“This meeting presents an opportunity to review the actions taken by member states to meet the timelines so that there could be an assessment of our progress. Implementation cannot be a shifting target. We cannot come to meeting after meeting and agree to a Plan and not carry forward the work,” he said.
The CSME allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region and the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said the 48th Regular Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) will also discuss intra-regional trade, as well as external economic and trade relations.
LaRocque told the meeting that an urgency to complete the agreed measures and make the CSME a lived reality for the citizens of the Caribbean has been the hallmark of the recent discussions among regional leaders.
He said that a fundamental element of the Single Market is the trade in goods and that the review of the Common External Tariff (CET) and the Rules of Origin, the two major trade policy instruments, has been undertaken to assist in increasing the effectiveness of the Trade-in-Goods Regime.
LaRocque said that it aims to bring those instruments up to date, given the changes to the production structures that have taken place since they were first drafted.
“Based on the review, which included inputs from country missions, recommendations are being put forward for your consideration on a way forward. Given that regime’s centrality to the integration movement, the Report before you and its recommendations require careful consideration.”
The CARICOM Secretary General sad that another critical component of the economic integration is the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF), designed to provide assistance to the countries and sectors disadvantaged by the operations of the CSME.
He said that as part of its mission to reduce the gaps in the development of Member States, a proposed Cohesion Policy has been put forward by the CDF which would support the CARICOM Strategic Goal of ‘Building Economic Resilience – Stabilisation and Sustainable Economic Growth and Development’.
One of the aims of the Cohesion Policy is to ensure that, in addition to supporting disadvantaged countries, the CDF should, by 2020, support targeted pilot projects in every member state, LaRocque said, adding that he was urging every country to complete long overdue national consultations, to enable the formulation and implementation of these interventions.
“And of course there is also the need to replenish the Fund. The CDF is written into the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and we are obliged to ensure its operation,” he said.
LaRocque said that completing the internal market and economic arrangements will allow the region to engage more effectively as a unit with our international trading partners.
“We have been active in that arena, with most notably ensuring that our trading relationship with the United Kingdom will remain essentially the same when that country leaves the European Union. To that end at the CARIFORUM (Caribbean Forum) level, we have concluded and signed the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement. The agreement is designed to ensure continued preferential access to UK markets and safeguards current and future trade flow between the countries of the region and the UK,” LaRocque said.
He said that CARICOM has consolidated trading relations with the United States and is considering proposals to improve existing agreements with Costa Rica and Colombia.
“Honourable ministers, we live in somewhat challenging times. Our small economies face a number of challenges, which we have to confront head on. Nevertheless, we continue to demonstrate to the world that a group of small and vulnerable economies can make progress on the basis of joint commitments to human and economic development.
“Small size should not in itself be a hindrance to progress. What matters is the extent to which we continue to develop our human capital, foster innovation within our economies, and present ourselves to the outside world as a Region that is welcoming to international partnerships and investment,” he told the meeting.
The two-day meeting is being chaired by Sandra Husbands, the Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados.
She told the ceremony that the region needed to take action on matters that will allow Caribbean people to actively feel the benefit of the CSME
“We need to take care of certain elements that are important to our people”, she said, adding that collective thinking, identification of common interests and unity were necessary to achieve integration goals.
She said there was also need for the region to be strategic, deliberate and effective with decisions and implementation activities of the CSME.
Husbands said that it was important for delegates to view their work under the umbrella of COTED, not from the perspective of individual member states, but rather what was best for common interest of the region.
She said that this was necessary to create the level of economic growth and development and the kind of society that was just, fair and prosperous.
“Let us strengthen ourselves to go forward as a region at this Forty-Eighth COTED”, the Chairman said.