Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders have ended their two-day summit in Guyana adopting decisions that they said are important to moving the 15-member regional integration movement “towards its objects”.
CARICOM Chairman and host, president David Granger told the end of summit news conference that the leaders had also reflected on the importance of the ‘CARICOM Brand’, “and the pride that we have in our citizenship, citizenry and membership”.
“Every citizen of this Community must count; every citizen of this Community has rights, and, wherever our citizens are, they have the right to be treated as Caribbean citizens.
“There is no such thing as a ‘stateless person’ in our Community. There should be no such occurrence as a citizen of a Caribbean state being treated as inferior in any jurisdiction in the Community,” he added.
The regional leaders had entered their 28th inter-sessional summit with the future of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region, under the microscope.
Granger acknowledged that in the discussions “for which we received a review, the matter of free movement of skilled persons was ventilated.
“We agreed on priority areas to be addressed, including the completion of the protocol on procedures relating to facilitation of travel.
“We commended the significant progress in implementation of the CSME. We agreed on priority areas to be addressed including the challenges of payments for goods and services traded within the region.”
But he said the regional leaders continued to be concerned that “some of our previous decisions have not been fully complied with and agreed that the necessary action will be taken to effect compliance.
“In that regard, the meeting also addressed the need for the relevant ministerial councils and committees to meet,” he said. At the start of the summit, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that of particular concern is the inability of the Legal Affairs Committee comprising Attorneys-General to come together to deal with critical agreements with respect to both the CSME and regional security.
“I am also concerned that our Council for Finance and Planning has not been able to meet for a considerable period of time. We can and must do better,” Skerrit said, adding “this is a time for action. We cannot afford the luxury of procrastination”.
Granger said that the “unacceptable levels of crime” in CARICOM was another critical agenda item at the meeting, with the leaders resolving “to do more to curb the scourge, including placing greater focus on the social determinants of crime, especially among the youth.
“Our Attorneys-General will take action to finalise agreements which are essential to the implementation of the Regional Crime and Security Agenda.
“We will be seeking to take full advantage of opportunities for capacity-building to address existing and emerging threats, including those related to Cybersecurity and Cybercrime, Crime Prevention and Drug Demand Reduction.”
Granger said that the leaders had approved the draft road map for a Single ICT Space and commended the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and the officials who had prepared the document.
He said the Single ICT Space would be one of the driving forces for social and economic development of the Community.
“It would enhance the environment for investment and production, provide an opportunity for innovation to flourish, support a sustainable increase in growth and jobs and enhance efficiency and increase access to public services.”
Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, who has lead responsibility for ICT within the quasi CARICOM Cabinet, told reporters that the leaders had agreed on a new strategy to support innovation.
“It will also protect our citizens on the whole issue of where cyber security is concerned, ensuring that the best legal and regulatory framework is available to support our citizens in the digital economy.
“It will also provide meaningful partnerships among private sector, public sector and the people at large,” he said, adding that “it would link several national ICT programmes for regional impact, and it examines also the educational opportunities in linking ICT in the whole area of science, technology, engineering and mathematics more seamlessly”.
Mitchell said that there is no doubt in his mind ICT will allow for the region to compete in the global economy.
“That is going to be the one that will equalise us with our big brothers and sisters internationally because one can do business in Grenada or Guyana wherever in the Caribbean providing services to all parts of the world if we harness the issue of technology more than we are doing at this particular time”.
Granger told reporters that on the issue of corresponding banking, the leaders had recognised the need for a regional approach and “continued concerted, urgent action to address effectively the challenge posed by the de-risking strategies of the global banks which result in the withdrawal of correspondent banking services”.
He said the regional approach was also necessary to strengthen the integrity of the financial system in CARICOM member states and to attenuate the perception of the Caribbean as a high-risk region.
“We considered the strategy and action plan submitted by the Committee of Central Bank Governors and we have asked the Committee of Ministers of Finance with responsibility for Correspondent Financing to assume the oversight of its roll-out.
“We noted, particularly, the need to strengthen Member States’ compliance with the global regulatory standards with regard to Anti- Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CTF) and Tax Transparency Information Exchange.”
He said regarding the tourism industry, the summit recognised the importance of the “vital sector in the economies of member states” and welcomed proposals from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) for advancing a regional tourism agenda particularly through the public-private sector partnerships.
“We acknowledged the importance of transportation and facilitation of travel, human resource development, the creative industries and marketing as well as competitiveness and financing for the sustainability of tourism in CARICOM.
“We also asked that the marketing campaign(s) encompass, in particular, the tourism product of the mainland member states – Belize, Guyana and Suriname.”
He said with regards to travel, the leaders called for an urgent meeting of the Council for Trade and Development (COTED) on Transportation to address air transport issues in particular, including those related to the tourism sector.
The leaders also received a progress report from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on the preparations for CARIFESTA which will be held in Barbados from August 17-27, 2017, under the theme ‘Asserting Our Culture, Celebrating Ourselves’.
“We acknowledged the importance of the Festival to the Caribbean identity and ‘brand’, and we encourage full participation in this event. We are a unique people and it is important that we showcase the diversity of our people,” Granger said.