PARAMARIBO, Suriname – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began their annual summit in earnest today – coinciding with CARICOM Day marking the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas that gave birth to the regional integration movement, hoping for fresh perspectives on deepening the 15-member grouping.
“As we prepare, for our deliberations, for the next two days, let us remain mindful of the importance of solidarity and the spirit of a community, when we address the issues on our agenda,” the incoming CARICOM chairman and host, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, told the four hour-opening ceremony on Sunday night.
“After all, we should be united in our purpose, to advance sustainable development for our region’s countries, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”
CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Carla Barnett said the summit was taking place at a time of severe global crisis in three vital areas, namely, food, energy, and finance.
“Addressing solutions for our region requires collective intellect and will to act together. This task is not beyond us, as we have proven time and again. Let us, therefore, once more unto the breach and make a difference in the lives of our people,” she added.
But the newly elected Grenada Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell, one of three new elected leaders to address Sunday’s ceremonial opening, urged that the CARICOM should do more so as not to be “viewed as a place where we talk, and talk, and talk and then we talk some more”.
His Bahamas counterpart, Phillip Davis reminded the regional leaders that “the scaffolding for our regional architecture, the scaffolding for our future, is in our hands,” while the other newly elected leader, Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre of St. Lucia noted “we must not only talk unity. We must demonstrate to our people that we are together confronted by similar problems that can be resolved only by a United CARICOM”.
CARICOM is going to place much emphasis during this summit on the issue of implementation, a situation that has dogged the regional integration movement since its inception and as Santohki asked “have we as a region advanced functional cooperation, and increased coordination of policies to benefit our people?
“Were we able, to effectively facilitate intra-regional trade, and work towards removing barriers? Did we implement policies, to facilitate the free movement of persons and goods? Has CARICOM served the development goals of its members?
“Indeed, for one of the oldest integration bodies in the Western Hemisphere, we in the Community, need to undertake this assessment. In true Caribbean fashion, we can not only reflect, but also have to celebrate our many achievements,” he added.
The summit is taking place at a time when the region is emerging from the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that crippled regional economies, shut down borders and significantly impacted health services.
Prior to the pandemic, all forecasts were that an economic recovery was on the horizon. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had predicted 7.8 per cent growth for the Caribbean. Travel was resuming, our tourism industries were re-opening; our citizens were returning to work and to school.
In agriculture, CARICOM is moving rapidly to dismantle barriers to intra-regional agricultural trade and to stimulate the investment needed to strengthen the regional food system. It has set a target of increasing trade by 25 per cent by 2025.
“If we can deliver affordable, regionally produced food for our people, it will strengthen their faith in our integration effort,” said Belize Prime Minister, John Briceno, who chaired the grouping over the last six months.
“When we met in Belize, we agreed to take a deliberate approach to industrial development of the region. A sound industrial policy will contribute to building economic resilience, improving competitiveness, attracting investment and unleashing the potential of regional entrepreneurship and MSMEs. In short, bringing to life the CSME (CARICOM Single Market and Economy) for all levels of society so that the benefits of integration can be experienced in the daily lives of our citizens,” he added.
But just as important as food and nutrition security is the existential threat of climate change. The latest report of the Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change last cautioned that without immediate and deep emissions reductions across sectors, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be beyond reach.
Prime Minister Davis said that The Bahamas has suffered more than four billion United States dollars in loss and damage from hurricanes and storms, since 2015.
UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said the Caribbean is ground zero for the global climate emergency and that bold solutions were necessary to tackle these issues.
He said for instance there was a need to match climate action to the scale and urgency of the crisis, calling for urgent and transformative emissions reduction to halt global warming at a 1.5C, support for adaptation from climate impacts, and financial assistance to secure resilience.
“I thank Caribbean leaders for helping to show the way. I am inspired by your many efforts to safeguard your incredible biodiversity and natural gifts, including by the efforts of the indigenous communities,” he said.
The UN Secretary General said that more ambition and climate action are needed by all, but specially the G20 who account for 80 per cent of global emissions.
Guterres said that wealthier countries need to lead the way in a just and equitable “renewables revolution”, and they need to fulfil their promise to deliver US$100 billion in climate finance for adaptation starting this year.
“And it is time for a frank discussion and space for decision-making regarding the loss and damage that your countries are already experiencing.”
The deliberations here are also coming in the immediate aftermath of two broader summits, one hemispheric and the other more global. CARICOM officials have already indicated that the results of those discussions, particularly at the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles, have the potential to have a positive impact on the social, environmental and economic aspects of Caribbean lives.
“As much as the insights gleaned and the promises made at those fora can assist us, in the final analysis it is what we do for ourselves that will make the difference. And, making that difference in the lives of the people of the Community is what has been the impetus driving the initiatives which we have been undertaking,” said the CARICOM Secretary General.