Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud said Caricom states must understand that industries are not owned by any particular member state and the region’s people do not belong to any specific state, but to a regional grouping.
Persaud promulgated these views in a feature address at a consultation on the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) Rural Community Readiness held to review the Draft Report on a career study promoting buying within rural communities and stimulating and encouraging their active participation in the CSME.
“The Challenges [are] and continues to be how to meet the information needs of all stakeholders on the issue relating to the progression of the integration process and how to operate and make a living within the new regimes. These have pointed to the rural community as one critical stakeholder group especially, in its capacity as a source of agricultural produce to consumers within the CSME,” he said. According to a Government Information Agency (GINA) press release the minister said that producers and inhabitants in rural communities are unaware of the CSME. They are unable to access opportunities because of the challenges of understanding how to meet market access requirements such as Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary requirements.
Persaud pointed out that if the CSME is to succeed, then the gap between the richest and poorest countries needs to be narrowed, noting that in addition to the free movement of capital goods and services, there must also be a free movement of labour. “This freedom of movement can be of significant benefit, since there is a huge potential of skilled labour in the Caribbean Diaspora. To this end if the CSME is to fulfil its mandate, it must lay the stage for business to operate in an economic space that facilitates growth and development and create the conditions for extra-regional expansion into the global economy,” he said.
The CSME is regarded as the most ambitious enterprise undertaken by the Anglo Caribbean since independence, GINA said. It has the potential to unlock and unleash latent economic strategy in the Caribbean; the most recent being the approval of the ‘Single Development Vision’ by the Heads of Government in 2007, to guide the CSME development process. As such, agriculture, fisheries and the forestry industries have been recognised as economic drivers of the Single Development Vision. Persaud said the 500 farmers currently involved in the Ministry’s Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Development (READ) project must recognise this. “The project which will be developed over a six-year period is being implemented under a comprehensive Agriculture Diversifi-cation Strategy with the aim of empowering rural communities through agricultural trade,” he added.
Persaud noted that agricultural development stimulates rural development and rural communities’ buy-in to the CSME depends on member states allowing agriculture to become a vibrant regional production and trading enterprise. He noted too that in rural development efforts it is important to recognise the cultural practice of the communities and to develop a strategy that augments community efforts and foster development. The READ project is being implemented in communities in regions two, three, four, five, six and ten.
In addition, Assistant Secretary General, Trade and Economic Integra-tion, Caricom Secretariat, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque lauded the timeliness of the consultation. He noted that the CSME aims to provide access to opportunities to live, work and trade in any Caricom state freely. “As a community our challenge is to ensure that the fruits of our efforts through our guided CSME are to have widely and equitable distribution in and among our member countries,” he said. In achieving this he said that easy access of information on citizens using available technologies must be set as a priority, since there can be no CSME benefits without communication and interactions. The sum of $2.5M euros from the European Development Fund will be spent to develop and implement a public education strategy next year.
GINA said representatives from other Caricom states such Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and St. Kitts also attended the consultation.