On February 16-17, Heads of Government of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) converged in Georgetown, Guyana for the Twenty-Eighth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government.
The meeting, which was chaired by President of Guyana, His Excellency Brigadier (Retd’), David Granger, addressed a wide array of issues currently confronted by the Community. However, economic development and International Relations were among the three broad identified by CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, in his opening remarks to the conference. The third was crime and security.
Ambassador LaRocque noted that the issue of economic development, including economic growth, was foremost, observing that the majority of CARICOM member States have been struggling with low growth, high debt and fiscal pressure. Further to this point, it should be noted that just last week the Caribbean Development Bank stated that although they project the Region to experience economic growth of approximately 1.7 percent in 2017, they also suggested that “this will not be enough to stimulate employment, particularly among youth, and reduce high regional debt levels”, and that a long term plan was needed to “facilitate the Region’s participation in global supply chains and drive sustainable economic growth”.
Ambassador LaRocque highlighted the importance of collective action to confront the problems facing the region, and reiterated the fact that the CARICOM Single Market & Economy (CSME) had been identified by member States as the “best vehicle” to promote our overall economic growth and development.
Indeed, a major discussion point in the meeting was the status of the CSME. According to the official communique from the meeting, the Heads of Government received a review of the status of the CSME and noted the “the significant progress” in its implementation. They also agreed on priority areas to be addressed, including the challenges of payments for goods and services traded within the Region and the completion of the protocol on procedures relating to the facilitation of travel. They also supported the need for continually reviewing the impact of the CSME in both achieving the objectives of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and on the lives of CARICOM peoples.
According to the communique, the Heads of Government also considered some impediments to furthering the CSME. Noting the importance of transportation to the movement of Community nationals, they called for a focused discussion on transportation in the context of the integration movement and also urged greater collaboration among the regional airlines.
Indeed, transportation issues also featured in the Heads of Government’s discussion on tourism, which they reiterated was a vital sector for CARICOM member States. Inter alia, the Heads of Government called for “an urgent meeting of the Council for Trade and Development (COTED)-Transportation to address air transport issues in particular, including those related to the tourism sector”.
De-risking strategies of global banks, which include the restriction or withdrawal of correspondent banking services to banks in the region, was again an important agenda item. The Heads of Government endorsed the need for a continued regional approach to the challenge, including continued concerted action and advocacy. To this end, they considered the Strategy and Action Plan submitted by the Committee of Central Bank Governors and directed the Committee of Ministers of Finance with responsibility for Correspondent Financing to assume oversight of the roll-out.
Turning to the issue of international relations, the recently concluded negotiations by the CARICOM-Cuba Joint Commission on the Second Protocol to the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement was welcomed by the Heads of Government, who agreed that it would strengthen the economic relations and cooperation between CARICOM and Cuba.
US-CARICOM relations was another important agenda item. The Heads of Government welcomed the US-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016. Emphasising the importance of the long-standing relationship between CARICOM and the US, the Heads of Government expressed their desire to continuing the “fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship with the new US Administration”.
CARICOM is part of the Caribbean sub-grouping of the Africa, Caribbean & Pacific (ACP) group. In light of the impending expiration of the Cotonou Agreement in 2020, Heads of Government noted the Cotonou Agreement’s importance as “a unique and valued instrument from which CARICOM has benefited with regard to trade, development co-operation and political dialogue with Europe” and suggested that the Agreement be renewed. Heads of Government also expressed their desire for the ACP to be strengthened, emphasising that membership in the ACP Group “remains a valuable construct which has facilitated relations with Africa and the Pacific”.
Besides these issues, the Heads of Government also discussed the on-going border disputes between Belize and Guatemala, and Guyana and Venezuela, relations with the Dominican Republic, an update on preparations for CARIFESTA, inter alia.
The full communique may be viewed here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.