Prime Minister Mia Mottley this morning warned Barbados and its regional neighbours that united they would stand, divided they would fall in the face of recurring threats to their financial services sectors.
Addressing the sixth special meeting of the Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC), Mottley emphasized that countries could not confront the threats on their own, as she appealed to her regional counterparts to work together to arrive at common ground.
“There is no doubt that we cannot seek to work separately as we seek to attract investment to our countries in a way that undermines each other and hence the need for a common community investment policy and code,” said Mottley, while lamenting that though the code was agreed to some ten years ago, it still had not been implemented.
“There is no doubt that we need to have our financial services architecture regulated by [CARICOM] Treaty arrangements,” she added.
Last December, Barbados and four other CARICOM financial centres were blacklisted by the European Union (EU) as tax havens.
Also included on the EU blacklist, which was issued on December 5 following ten months of investigations by EU officials and affected 17 global states in total, were Grenada, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago, which like Barbados had expressed surprise and dismay over their inclusion on the dreaded list, as well as the threat of punitive sanctions.
This led to feverish behind-the-scenes efforts to get the EU to change its mind.
And while the blacklisted regional countries have since conformed to the EU’s wishes, regional officials remain concerned about the “unilateral demands” as well as the EU’s threat of blacklisting and withdrawal of development support to CARICOM countries.
“The required reforms have significant implications for the future of the financial services sector in many of our countries. We therefore require time to determine and examine the options for reform that are available to us in accord with our national and regional goals and objectives.
“Further, there appears to be a move away from multilateralism as some countries seem unwilling to comply with the dictates of globally recognized standard setting bodies. This is happening at a time when the vulnerability of small countries has become even more pronounced,” said Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Today, he also warned of the threats posed by organizations such as the Financial Stability Board, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that were “claiming to set global standards without countries such as ours having a voice in the process”.
Browne, who chaired today’s COFAP meeting, said while the CARICOM states were supportive of global initiatives to promote greater tax transparency and more responsible tax practices, “we continue to be concerned about the extent of the reforms that have been mandated and demanded and the ambitious timeline for executing such reforms”.
Warning that the current path was unsustainable, he urged his CARICOM colleagues “to commit to leaving here with workable solutions to realize the promise of the CSME [the CARICOM Single Market and Economy], as we seek to create better opportunities for our citizens.
“Our success depends on us leveraging our collective creativity, talent, expertise and resources to address the problems which bedevil us,” Browne said in echoing Mottley’s call for unity.
Today’s meeting, which was also attended by St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves as well as the Secretary General of CARICOM Irwin LaRocque, came ahead of tomorrow’s Nineth Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee meeting on the CSME.
Mottley, who is down to chair that meeting and also to deliver the feature address, also warned of the need to advance the CSME agenda.
“[This] is absolutely critical if we are going to give true expression to improving the lot of our citizens . . . because, if we are going to carry the single market to the next level, then [outstanding] issues have to have some advances made with respect to them,” she told her regional counterparts.
In this regard, Mottley, who has lead responsibility within CARICOM’s quasi cabinet for the establishment of the CSME, specifically called for an integrated regional capital market against the backdrop that “all of us are having access problems with respect to capital”.
“Therefore, this meeting is timely, and I look forward to the substantive decisions that we will make today, recognizing that tomorrow we meet as a prime ministerial subcommittee on the CSME, and therefore some of these decisions are absolutely critical to advancing the work of the single market again . . . and all of this before we meet finally for the special meeting before the end of the year,” she said while flanked by members of her economic team, including Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes. [email protected]