GEORGETOWN, Guyana (GINA)
The 30th Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which was expected to be contentious, with migration and intra-regional trade rows threatening to disrupt the discussions, ended last evening with significant progress being made in several areas.
Global Economic and Financial Crisis
Recognizing that several countries in the Caribbean have been adversely affected by the global economic and financial crisis, the Heads of Government have taken the bold step of establishing the first ever regional Task Force of a political nature to find solutions for the region.
The Task Force, which comprises Prime Ministers Patrick Manning of Trinidad & Tobago, Bruce Golding of Jamaica, Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, David Thompson of Barbados and President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, who will be the Chairman of the Task Force, is expected to be set in motion soon, considering the urgency of the issues it seeks to address.
Additional technical members of the Task Force include the CARICOM Secretary-General; President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); Director-General of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); and the Director of the Caribbean Centre for Money and Finance (CCMF). The tourism industry in the Caribbean, which is a significant revenue earner for countries such as The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica and others, has been decimated with fewer persons around the world travelling, and the financial service sector has been faced with difficulties stemming from the financial meltdown in the developed world and from the failures of the CL Financial and Stanford Groups.
Additionally, the real sectors have been affected by the contagious effect of the global downturn. In response, many countries do not have the budgetary space to conduct counter-cyclical spending to ease the effects of the crisis.
At the closing press conference on Saturday evening, the Chairman of CARICOM, President Jagdeo, stated, “It was recognized that we have to do a series of things but some of them would have to be very urgently done.”
The tasks before the Community are to mobilize the resources necessary to assist these countries and develop medium-to-long-term development strategies to set them on the right path. Earlier Saturday, the President had highlighted two options to obtain the resources needed. The President had stressed that the mobilization of CARICOM internal resources could be pivotal.
“We have significant reserves that are all held outside of the region. I think we have to make sure that we have a policy to invest those reserves. I think we can use our own resources to try to push forward development in our region,” he stated.
However, the Head of State pointed out that such reserves belong to individual member states in the Community, and the investment of those reserves is therefore a sovereign decision. He noted that any investment of these reserves must meet two criteria – safety and liquidity.
The other option available to the Caribbean proposed by the President was making the region much more attractive to investments from non-traditional sources, such as the Arab sovereign funds and from countries such as India, China and Brazil.
The CARICOM Chairman also explained that a forum will be held shortly that will examine comprehensively the difficulties faced by these countries. “We’ll provide an opportunity in the very near future for countries to fully explain their difficulties and hopefully, tell us more about their own efforts so that this regional Task Force can work with these countries using their own plans to mobilize more resources,” he said.
The Regional Marketing Plan, which will assist in bringing more visitors to the Caribbean region, has been identified as a priority for implementation. The Plan was established at the previous Heads of Government Conference but its implementation was delayed because of the lack of funding.
“That marketing plan has been developed for a while now. The plan is developed and approved but with countries having fiscal difficulties (with) so many requests for finances, which will have to come from the Treasury, there is that difficulty of funding all of these new initiatives that are coming on board,” President Jagdeo had stated earlier on Saturday.
Heads of Government reiterated their deep concern with regard to the proposed Air Passenger Duty (APD) as it applies to travel from the UK to the Caribbean as it would not only greatly increase the cost of travel from the UK to the Region but would also put the Caribbean at a disadvantage in relation to other more distant destinations. The Heads of Government agreed to continue pursuing vigorously the matter with UK policymakers to ensure that a more equitable band of the APD is applied to Caribbean travel.
Agriculture and Food Security
Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to providing financial and other support measures for agriculture. They underscored the importance of agriculture for food and nutrition security and for the development of Caribbean economies.
In the declaration issued on agriculture and food security, the Community recognized agriculture as an important contributor to rural development, GDP, employment, export earnings and to the overall sustainable development of the Member States of the Caribbean Community. However, it was pointed out that this sector is inhibited by key binding constraints, including a reduction in development support and investment.
Further, it was recognized that financing for agriculture development is proving to be the major limitation which is affecting the speed and effectiveness of dealing with the other constraints. As a result, the Heads of Governments renewed their commitment to pursue a strategic approach to transforming the agriculture sector into an internationally-competitive sector with increased capacity to contribute to the sustained economic development of the Region, the economic livelihood of entrepreneurs, the rural sector and to food and nutrition security.
A Regional Symposium on Services will be held in Antigua and Barbuda from 15-17 July and it was agreed that delegations to the Symposium from Member States should include ministerial and senior public sector officials.
A Draft Strategic Plan for Services and the Plan of Action for the next five years which is to be considered by Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) will also be presented at the next Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference scheduled for Dominica in 2010.
Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D)
Heads of Government agreed to mandate the Ministers with responsibility for information and communication technologies to lead the process in developing the long-term strategy and plan of action for the ICT sector into 2020 which should be presented to the Conference at the next Inter-sessional Meeting.
CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)
Heads of Government received the information on the audit of the CSME implementation and agreed to hold convocation on the CSME involving all stakeholders, which would give full consideration to that report. It was also agreed that Member States would immediately implement the entry procedures for right of establishment and temporary movement of service providers, particularly in light of the potential for increased extra-regional competition resulting from the implementation of the EPA and other agreements.
Free Movement of People
Heads of Government re-affirmed the goal of free movement of persons as expressed in Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and that free movement is an essential element of the CSME, but given the current global economic and financial crisis, its full implementation at this point in time will be challenging for some Member States.
They agreed that the schedule of free movement of persons within the Single Market would be reviewed at the CSME Convocation to be convened in October with a view to advising on the timetable for full free movement. They also agreed that household domestic workers who have obtained a Caribbean Vocational Qualification or equivalent qualification will be allowed to move with effect from January 1, 2010.
Heads of Government further agreed on the importance of training and sensitizing Immigration Officers on the implementation of the Region’s approach to free movement and hassle-free travel.
Crime and Security
Heads of Government agreed to re-activate the security facilities put in place for Cricket World Cup 2007 and the Fifth Summit of the Americas for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2009 and ICC World 20/20 Tournament to be held in the Caribbean in 2010.
They also agreed to proposals for implementing the CARICOM Travel Pass (CARIPASS); the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) and the programmes for the control of small arms and light weapons associated with violent crimes and gang violence.
The pledge of US$30 million made by the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama during the Summit of the Americas to support the joint development of a strategy of co-operation, mutually beneficial partnership and information-sharing with the Caribbean was discussed, and the way forward to engage the United States was determined.
They further agreed to the re-activation of the Resource Mobilization Sub-Committee (RMC) to manage the US Assistance in the area of security and other offers of assistance.
Heads of Government noted the progress of negotiations of a new global Climate Change Agreement leading to the Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December, and agreed on the Region’s priorities, which include the reduction of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions; mitigation and adaptation; the transfer of technology; renewable energy; forest conservation and avoided deforestation (and carbon capture and sequestration).
They endorsed the Caribbean Challenge in its efforts to protect the Region’s marine resources and in its work towards fulfilling the UNFCCC ecosystem-based management and adaptation recommendations, and implementing the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing biodiversity loss.
According to President Jagdeo, over 40 items on the agenda were discussed over the three days. The Conference began with a pre-summit caucus to deal with items that take a long time to discuss but are not contentious or very important. It was followed by the opening ceremony later the same day. The Heads of Government spent the next two days in all-day sessions, working towards a consensus on several areas.
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