With ominous signs of emerging debt and other financial crises looming for Caribbean economies pummeled by the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Mia Mottley has told regional counterparts that increasing cooperation and deepening regional integration are the best options to kickstart the recovery.
And as she addressed a key CARICOM organ, she urged the bloc to get on with the business of navigating the current difficult circumstances as she drew attention to double-digit economic declines for most member states.
As the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the key body governing trade and economic development opened its 52nd annual meeting on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said: “If ever there was a time that the region needs to rely on regional cooperation and regional integration, it is absolutely now within the context of what we are going to face in the post-pandemic period, and we are not yet there but we can begin to see already what it is looking like.”
In his last COTED meeting as CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin Larocque underscored COTED’s lead role in building the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as a major driver of regional integration.
He stressed that the CSME is still the key to building regional economies and the current crisis demands its full implementation.
“In order to face these challenges, we must devote much more attention to building resilience, including into our production systems. The CSME is the platform for transforming the economic structures of member states, and building the resilience necessary for dealing with the increasing number of external and internal economic shocks,” the outgoing Secretary-General told delegates.
“We need now to press on with urgency to complete the full implementation of the CSME. The removal of remaining barriers to intra-regional trade, for example, must be among the priorities. The regime of free movement of skills and persons is how our citizens gauge the effectiveness of integration. The implementation of the agreed-on expansion of categories of skilled workers would help to promote a deeper sense of belonging among our citizens.”
Highlighting key developments during his tenure, Ambassador LaRocque noted that CARICOM heads have approved the adoption of rules on contingent rights for the families of CARICOM Skilled Nationals and on government procurement. They also reached an agreement on common policies to establish credit reporting and deposit insurance systems in member states.
A food and nutrition security plan and a strategy to advance a CARICOM Agri Foods Agenda are being worked on by a ministerial task force. CARICOM’s newest associate institution, the Caribbean Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) has tabled a plan to reduce the region’s food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025 and is actively engaged in the trade and economic council’s work, the Secretary-General said.
With a CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement now in force to open up Caribbean skies to regional civil aviation players, COTED is expected to discuss its implementation.
The two-day ministerial meeting is also expected to focus on the CSME, and issues in intra-regional trade in goods, usually among the thorniest of talking points in COTED.
Developments in global trade are also on the agenda. The World Trade Organisation’s new Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, joined the regional ministers and officials Wednesday for discussions on pressing issues on the multilateral trade front. The Director-General will also provide her perspective on access to COVID-19 vaccines. (SD)