Despite concerns raised by fellow Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders during last night’s opening ceremony of the 37th CARICOM Heads of Government Summit, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart says he is not about to sound the death knell of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
“I do not think that the situation is as grave as I heard describe, I think the focus is on what has not yet happened,” said Stuart, who has lead responsibility for the CSME within the quasi-CARICOM Cabinet.
While acknowledging that “over the last seven to eight years, our region has been under pressure from events taking place in the international environment” and that “most of our member states have had to be inward-looking with a view to ensuring that they deal with the hot immediacies of every day governance”, Stuart said he was not about to lose faith in the CSME.
In fact, he reiterated the position he had taken at last year’s CARICOM summit in Barbados that “we [in this region] have a way of tending to accentuate what has not happened and a way of losing sight of in fact what has happened”.
The Barbadian leader also told reporters that the Guyana meeting would discuss recommendations on the way forward for the arrangement, adding that it has so far proven beneficial to the people of the 15-member grouping.
“We are going to be having a look at what are the thorny issues that need to be resolved; what are the mountains we need to climb to bring to full or near full realization, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy,” he said.
The CSME allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region, but it has been dogged by several problems, including allegations by some regional countries that their nationals have not been allowed to freely enter participating member states.
During Monday’s opening, CARICOM Chairman, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, said he simply could not understand why CARICOM had not completed the essential infrastructure to facilitate movement towards “an effective free trade area, a meaningful Community or a Single Market and Economy”.
Skerrit also questioned why the initiative had so far failed to gain the traction needed, saying, “there is no doubt whatsoever that the essential infrastructure to facilitate economic cooperation and growth in CARICOM is incomplete.
“Let us not ignore the fact that we have made some progress,” the Dominican leader said, noting, for example, “we have seen movement in the fourth priority, which is a productive regionally integrated labour market, including a long range view of the skills needed, their movement and how work is done”.
However, Skerrit sought to underscore the need for greater cooperation among Caribbean countries, noting, “It takes two hands to clap.
“CARICOM is not about imposing policies and programmes on member states. It is about empowering member states by democratic means. A major responsibility therefore falls at the level of member states to get things moving.
“For example, we have agreed on any number of measures to advance the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and our officials have completed all the necessary technical work.
“However, due to the failure of our member states to give the go ahead, those critical measures remain unattended. There are several other cases which can be listed as demonstrating that there can be movement in other areas of the CSME. Their completion could enhance our competitiveness and create considerable opportunities for our Community,” the CARICOM Chairman said.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also addressed the CSME during last night’s summit opening saying it was important for the leaders, ten years after the CSME was first mooted, to bring it back on the regional agenda.
“We must take ownership of issues from the grouping. We must continue to adopt to the maxim that the whole is better than the part,” Rowley said, while noting that “today, we face, among other things, new trials of graduation, correspondent banking and the unfair labelling of some of our countries as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions which we have endeavoured to face with a collective stance.
“If our past trajectory is a good determinant of the outcome of these challenges, then there is considerable light on the horizon.”
He told the ceremony that even before he assumed office in February this year, cognizance was taken of the need to accord special priority to CARICOM.
“With this in mind, the official policy framework of my Government carves out particular attention to enhancing my country’s relationship with the Community. The focus given to CARICOM also precipitated the change in nomenclature of the line Ministry with responsibility for foreign policy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs.
“Furthermore, this week, the Cabinet agreed to re-open a High Commission in Barbados which, when operational, together with our mission in Jamaica, will ensure that Trinidad and Tobago has bilateral accreditation to all CARICOM countries and an Ambassador to CARICOM. In similar vein, we are extremely gratified that another vital CARICOM partner will establish a High Commission in Port of Spain in the not too distant future,” Rowley said.
When it was his turn at the podium, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness defended his government’s decision to establish a commission led by former prime minister Bruce Golding to review Jamaica’s relationship with CARICOM, reiterating that it was not meant to send a signal that Kingston intended to leave the grouping.
He said Jamaica had been supportive of the CSME from the start, but used the occasion to raise concerns about the treatment of Jamaicans at certain regional ports of entry.
Holness said in some instances bilateral talks had been ongoing, adding that Jamaica believed it was important to make the “movement of labour equal to that of the movement of goods”.
CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque gave the conference the assurance that there would be an “overview of the CSME, ten years after it came into being.
“Our member states remain resolute that it is the only viable option for sustained economic growth. While we have made progress, there is no denying that we could have been further ahead, although challenges remain in some areas. We must do what is required to move the process forward,” he said, acknowledging there were challenges related to the free movement regime, which guarantees hassle-free travel for CARICOM citizens.