Impediments to CARICOM free trade raised again at COTED

-recourse to CCJ mentioned

Chet Greene (centre) speaking at the meeting (CARICOM Secretariat photo)

-honey, duck meat among items facing hurdles

If the Council for Trade and Economic Development is to take seriously long outstanding issues, particularly those relating to non-compliance by member states based on provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, consideration must be given to their rights to take those matters to the Caribbean Court of Justice.

This is according to Antigua and Barbuda Minister of Trade, Commerce and Industry, Chet Greene, who was  chairing the two-day 46th Meeting of the COTED and who emphasised the need for compliance and to consider those seeking redress. The meeting opened on Wednesday at the CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen.

Noting that the rules of procedures governing the operations of the council will be discussed and hopefully, if finalised and approved, he said, the rules will help to deal with the longstanding issues on the agenda. These include denial of market access for certain commodities including honey into Trinidad and Tobago, the intraregional trade of frozen duck meat from Suriname, matters relating to free movement of persons, and market access issues associated with the provision of professional services in the case of external auditing across the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

“If we are to seriously settle these longstanding issues for the benefit of our respective private sector, we must consider the provisions of the Treaty outside of a member state’s right to take those matters to the CCJ,” Greene said.

He added, “Let us not therefore, create obstacles or prevent the free flow of trade between our respective countries.”

The Rules of Procedure, he said, will also treat with new and emerging issues on the agenda.

Because the dynamics of matters to be addressed cannot wait on the regular meeting of the COTED to be informed and take decisions, he said, an appropriate mechanism must be included in the rules of the procedure for the council.

“Perhaps the secretariat,” he suggested, “can consider increasing the dissemination of technical briefs and updates on specific issues to be considered by the council. This would certainly help with member states preparation for meetings.”

On the agenda was trade in goods that included discussions on the CARICOM Common External Tariff (CET) and requests from several member states for suspension of the CET to import several items extra-regionally.

In examining the CET, Greene said, “Our trading environment is rapidly changing and we must adjust, and the review of the CET is a crucial response to that adjustment. As we take stock of the consultancy, let us also be reminded of the many requests for suspensions, approved or denied, by this council over the years and the requests for changes to the Rules of Origin. The council must remain focused on the review because of the likely changes that could be made to the CET.”

High on the agenda is the implementation of the CSME. The implementation includes a draft protocol on public procurement, a regional labour market information system and the CSME Implementation Plan

Secretary General Irwin La Rocque in opening remarks said that a Review of the CSME – to consolidate, recalibrate and strengthen the arrangements that are in place – was completed last year. The Heads of Government, he said, approved the plan which deals with outstanding issues related to previous decisions, commitments and timelines. 

“The plan is to be published shortly, but for it to be meaningful, Member States must provide up-to-date information on their compliance,” La Rocque said.

The Review, also showed, he said, “that the lack of an effective consultative system at the national and regional levels has negatively affected decision making and implementation.”

Against this background, he said, a stakeholders consultation, to examine the CSME and its implementation, and identify what is necessary to make it more effective, is scheduled for early next month. The findings are also intended to inform the ongoing review of the CSME by the Heads of Government which continues in a “special session” in July. 

There are issues, such as, he said, “Government Procurement and Contingent Rights for more than a decade, going back and forth with seemingly endless consultations.”

A proposal is before the meeting aimed at addressing this particular problem and COTED is also being requested to provide the necessary guidance on the steps to take in fully operationalising the dispute settlement mechanisms under Chapter Nine – Disputes Settlement – of the Revised Treaty.

“This is not only intended to address matters related to disputes arising from Member States’ non-compliance with their obligations under the Treaty, but also the enforcement of decisions of the COTED, in order to further advance the implementation of the CSME,” he said.

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