CARICOM ‘PRIORITIES’ FOR ST. KITTS SUMMIT

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– work agenda reflects Guyana retreat decisions
MOST of the Caribbean Community’s Heads of Government will be arriving today in St. Kitts and Nevis for the 32nd regular annual summit that could prove most decisive for the future progress of the 38-year-old regional economic integration movement.

The achievement of positive results over the estimated three and half days of conferencing, starting with a closed-door caucus session tomorrow morning, will depend largely on the extent of commitment by the Heads of Government to stick with the “agenda of priorities” for collective “regional action”, as established last month at their two-day “special retreat” in Guyana’s Mazaruni region.
If they fail to do so then, as informed CARICOM monitors see it, the Community’s future could be a litany of woes –beyond this second decade of the 21st century—instead of the once bright hopes entertained for an envisaged seamless regional economy by 2015.
Having made the surprising decision at their retreat in Guyana to press the “pause” button on vital arrangements for advancement towards a Single Economy and concentrate seriously, as they said, on “consolidating the gains” of the Single Market component of the CSME, the Community leaders settled on a work agenda for follow-up action for this summit with  a list of “priority areas”  that embraces some sixteen segments of Caricom’s activities.
According to the draft agenda circulated for the four-day summit, which will have a ceremonial opening this evening at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the “priority areas” identified will include policies and programmes such as:
** A new thrust to attract foreign investment, with the private sector as a key partner; sustained approaches in agriculture development (with food security as a priority) and creation of a regional regime for fisheries (an old proposal); as well as elevating the importance of information and communication  technologies (ICT) as “a vital enabler for social and economic development”; and  reviewing education as an “export industry”.

NEW AND OLD

** Further, they have agreed to give focused attention to the development of air and maritime transport with a view to better facilitate intra-regional movement of people and goods to strengthen the integration movement.
** This is another old but welcome pledge and it should come as no surprise if they manage to finally reach an agreement on the unresolved issue of granting permission to the low-fare REDJet airline to undertake commercial flights out of Barbados to destinations that include Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
It would, of course, be a pity if, at the same time, the LIAT shareholder governments in attendance ignore the necessity for at least a reaffirmation of commitment to avoid pursuance of any initiative that could prove counter-productive to the economic viability of the durable island-hopping regional airline that LIAT has become.
** Some other programmes promised for “priority” collective regional action, include crime and security (a consistent agenda topic in the face of the criminality epidemic plaguing various member states);  and to also have a more “informed approach” to the often acrimonious issue of “free movement” of Community nationals.
** This time around there is an explanatory note in the circulated draft agenda to emphasise “the need for transparency and automacity in relation to the treatment of nationals at points of entry in accordance with agreed principles in order to avoid arbitrary treatment of Caricom nationals by immigration and customs officials…”
Once such an approach becomes a lived reality, region-wide,  expressions of thanks could be in order to CARICOM nationals who have been victims of discrimination, hostility, humiliation and worse at some air and seaports when immigration officers who should know better, failed to recognise their legal and moral obligations in the performance of their functions..

FOREIGN POLICY

The summit’s focus on foreign policy coordination is expected to include hemispheric and wider international issues, such as next week’s Third Caribbean/Latin American Conference , scheduled to take place in Caracas. Venezuela on July 5 as well as revisiting the implications of NATO’s continuing bombing raids on Libya and failures to promote dialogue between the government of President Muammar Gaddafi and a widening armed rebellion for regime change in Tripoli.
In order to facilitate adequate representation by Caricom at the scheduled CALC summit in Caracas, the Heads of Government have considered an arrangement to complete their work agenda by midday on Monday (July 4)
However, there remains uncertainty about the participation in the CALC event by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in view of his illness about which little is being officially reported in Caracas while he remains hospitalized in Havana, Cuba.
Prior to their consideration of foreign policy coordination, the Heads will interface with a trio of ‘special guests’—President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon of Colombia; Secretary General of the Organisation of American States Jose Miguel Insulza; and  Indris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Development of the European Commission.
For the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, the 32nd CARICOM summit would be his last after a dozen years as Head of State, as preparations are being advanced for new elections by October or November. Mr. Jagdeo is constitutionally debarred from seeking a third term.
And with St. Lucia also planning for new parliamentary elections in the last quarter of  the year, there are increasing speculations of the likelihood of a change in government in Castries, where the United Workers Party is completing its first five-year term since returning to power in December 2006, after two consecutive terms by the St Lucia Labour Party.
Speakers at the ceremonial opening  this evening will be host Prime Minister and incoming chairman, Dr Denzil Douglas; outgoing chairman Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of Grenada; new President of Haiti Michell Martelly; new President of Suriname Desi  Bouterse; and the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves.
The programme also includes regional awards with the CARICOM’s  highest honour—Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC)—being conferred on former Secretary General, Edwin Carrington, who retired last December at 72 after serving in that capacity for 18 years.
There were unconfirmed reports up to late yesterday that the Heads of Government are likely to choose  Dominica-born Erwin LaRocque as the new Secretary General of the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat, where he has been serving since 2005 as Assistant Secretary General with responsibilities for Trade and Economic Integration.