If CARICOM is to safeguard the region’s interests in the global arena and achieve the objective of improving the lives of its citizens, its most important immediate task is to advance the implementation of the Single Market and Economy (CSME), Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque says.
LaRocque underscored the CSME’s importance when he spoke at the opening of the two-day 47th Regular Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) yesterday at the Marriott Hotel, Kingston, Georgetown.
At the summit, CARICOM ministers with responsibility for trade are to focus on a number of key issues, including the CSME, with emphasis on its implementation plan and challenges, making the CSME more effective, and the definition of artisans and household domestics. They are also to discuss the direction of CARICOM’s external trade policy and its trade relations with the United Kingdom post-Brexit.
The outcome of the deliberations at this COTED meeting, LaRocque said, should assist the discussions at the Special Session to focus on the CSME in Port of Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago on December 3rd and December 4th.
While some progress has been made in the implementation of the CSME, which has long been identified as the vehicle to drive the economies of the region to sustainable development and to position them to take advantage of the opportunities in the international sphere, he said there is a significant amount of work left to be done.
CARICOM has to ensure there is full compliance with the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas as they apply to trade and the movement of people, he said.
“The failure to make progress in eliminating barriers to trade has caused some to question the utility of the work we do in this council,” he added.
The uncertain times, such as trade wars in international trade affairs, the continued indeterminate nature of Brexit and the threat to the global rules-based trading system, LaRocque said, all have implications for member states.
“They serve to emphasise that agreement on and implementation of our collective trade and economic policies assume even greater importance,” he said. “All of this is set out in the implementation plan that has been agreed to by our Heads of Government and which we have published. It is for Member States to implement the plan,” he said.
LaRocque noted that the delegation he led to Haiti along with the lead head of government with responsibility for the CSME, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, held discussions with Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, his cabinet and staff on an implementation plan for Haiti’s integration to the CSME. “The aim is for Haiti to put in place the requisite measures to allow for trade in goods and services starting next year and into 2020,” he further noted.
LaRocque reiterated the need to accelerate progress in the consolidation of the CSME and the need for the private sector and the people of the region to be able to trade their goods and services and to move for work or leisure without hindrance.
“The business of the community must not be stymied by refusal to live up to obligations,” he said.
Although he made no reference to any incident, LaRocque said that in rules-based institutions like CARICOM, “there is no alternative to compliance with our obligations.”
Not wishing to see CARICOM become a litigious organisation because of its long history of consensus-building in the interest of the whole, he nevertheless noted that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas contains extensive provisions for dispute resolution, starting from conciliation right up to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
In her remarks, COTED Chair, Barbados Minister in the Ministry of Foreign Trade
Sandra Husbands said CARICOM was “not fifteen members haggling and negotiating to create individual benefit for our countries.”
“If we want to truly understand our conjoined relationship,” she said, “the advent of (hurricanes) Maria and Irma (last year) illustrates how we are affected by any member’s misfortune and the active resolution of our difficulties requires each other.”
Noting the need to adjust, retool and redefine to remain relevant to address the realities that trade was skewed, she said, the many requests on the agenda for suspension of the Common External Tariff reflect the tremendous lag in moving forward on a production cooperation initiative.
Such an initiative would create jobs, increase trade and boost government revenues and GDP, she said. “Instead everyone wants their own beer factory and no one produces towels or linens for the millions used in our homes and hotels. This indicates that we need to organise our production activities and integration. Many opportunities are being lost. These are strategic discussions with which we as ministers should be grappling,” she added.