Guyanese joined with other Caricom nationals to observe Caricom Day which was observed on July 3.
This is a good time to reflect on the progress we have made since the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas on July 4, 1973 which brought into being the Carib-bean Community and Common Market. The signatories to the treaty were Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and the twin island of Trinidad and Tobago, but the Revised Treaty has now encompassed nearly all of the countries in the English speaking Caribbean as well as Suriname and Haiti.
There can be no doubt that as a region we have made significant progress since the establishment of Caricom some forty-four years ago. Several institutions were set up to harmonize and integrate several facets of our regional existence such as education, trade, foreign policy, jurisprudence and travel. The Caribbean Exami-nation Council (CXC) has now become a household word touching the lives of peoples throughout the region in a direct way.
There are however several challenges which the regional body continues to face, the most intractable of which seems to be that of the introduction of a single market and currency.
Guyana continues to lag behind in terms of economic development and in terms of the exchange rate of its currency vis-à-vis the US dollar. Indeed, the Guyana currency is still the weakest in the region in terms of purchasing power and remains unconvertible outside the shores of Guyana.
In the area of trade, despite the introduction of the Common External Tariff imposed on extra-regional trade, most of the goods and services continue to be imported from outside the region, including several which are produced within the region such as rice, sugar, poultry and vegetables. Many of the supermarkets in Guyana have on display imported fruits and vegetables despite the fact that local produce is available at cheaper prices. This, in my view, goes against the grain of Caricom as envisaged by its founder members. It is a drain on our foreign exchange while at the same time impacting adversely on the local agricultural sector.
Caricom as a regional body has done well, but more effort is needed by policymakers in areas that are important for citizens of the region, such as hassle free travel and the free movement of Caricom nationals. The region needs to do more to safeguard against any tendency on the part of Caricom members to dishonour their treaty obligations, especially in the area of trade and human rights violations. A Democratic Charter along the lines of the Organization of American States needs to be institutionalized which should serve to debar and impose sanctions on any participating member for human rights violations and unconstitutional rule. As an aside, while Guyana is privileged to host the venue of the Caricom Secretariat, there are not many Guyanese who have had the opportunity to visit the Secretariat, including our schoolchildren. Is it too much for the Secretariat to organize conducted tours involving students and other interested parties?