Caricom trade with UK high on agenda for heads of gov’t meeting – LaRocque

The region’s post-Brexit trade with the United Kingdom, the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy and the Cotonou Agreement are among a wide range of issues that will be discussed during the Thirty-Eighth Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), which opens today in Grenada, Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said yesterday.

LaRocque briefed the media at a news conference, streamed live and posted by the Caricom Secretariat on social media, on some of the important issues on the agenda at the meeting, which concludes on Thursday.

In his opening remarks, he informed that there would be discussions on Caricom’s continued trade with the United Kingdom (UK) post-Brexit. He informed that Caricom has been having some “informational consultations” with the UK government, centered on proposals for the region to “roll over the current Economic artnership Agreement (EPA)… As you know, trade with the United Kingdom is currently governed by the EPA… so once you are a person out of Europe, then of course we have to have another arrangement and we are hoping we do have a seamless shift across to ensure that the trade continues.”

Irwin LaRocque

He informed that the heads will also be updated on the Belize border dispute and the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy.

President David Granger has vowed to use every opportunity he gets to highlight Guyana’s position on the border controversy with Venezuela.

Guyana’s relations with Venezuela deteriorated sharply in 2015, when Caracas issued a maritime decree intended to claim areas in Guyana’s waters where US company ExxonMobil had earlier made a huge oil find. This resulted in Guyana leading a diplomatic offensive against Caracas in the region for the withdrawal of the maritime decree. Caracas later amended the decree but it remained unacceptable to Guyana.

Guyana has been pressing for a juridical settlement of the controversy with Venezuela Guyana had also argued that the UN Good Offices process has run for more than two decades without delivering tangible results.

Ambassador Dag Hayland Nylander, the UN Secretary General’s Personal Representative, was appointed earlier this year to ensure the continuation of the Good Offices Process as laid out by the Secretary General until the end of 2017, with a strengthened mandate of mediation and the understanding that “if by the end of 2017, the Secretary-General concludes that no significant progress has been made towards arriving at a full agreement for the solution of the controversy, he will choose the International Court of Justice as the next means of settlement unless the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela jointly request that he refrain from doing so.”

Reporters were also told yesterday that matters related to tourism, transportation security and health, financing and the upcoming Carifesta are also on the agenda for discussion. Responding to a question from Guyana’s Department of Information (DPI) about Caricom’s view on oil, LaRocque informed that it is not on the agenda to be dealt with during the meeting.

While noting that he is unsure if a discussion would come up, he said that he knew that the issue of renewable energy “certainly will be discussed.” LaRocque said that he is hopeful that the heads will sign an agreement to establish the Caricom Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Agency.

Asked about the region’s divided views on the intervening in the crisis situation in Venezuela, LaRocque said while he does not know if the heads will discuss it, the community must uphold the basic principles which speak to the of non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of the sovereign state of Venezuela. He said that one will have to wait to see if any statement on this particular issue will come out of the meeting.

When asked if the region is doing enough as it relates to the successor to the Cotonou Agreement, LaRocque responded in the affirmative and said that this is one of the items which will be discussed by the heads in the coming days. He said that Caricom heads will be briefed on the post-Cotonou arrangements and the region’s preparations for negotiations.

He said that the heads have had two previous discussions on this matter as have foreign affairs ministers and the Caribbean Forum of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (Cariforum) council.

According to LaRocque, recently Caricom foreign ministers had a consultation with one of the commissioners of the European Union. He said that negotiations will be launched about a year from now and he assured that Caricom “will be ready.”

The US’s Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon will have discussions with foreign ministers within the margins of the meeting on Caricom/US relations, LaRocque also said.

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