— Caricom Secretary-General Irwin La Rocque urges trade ministers
EVEN as Caricom trade ministers meet in Guyana to discuss the region’s trade and economic relations, Caricom Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin La Rocque has called on each member state to continue working towards a resilient region.
He spoke of the devastating climatic events which occurred in September that have put at risk the region’s efforts to stimulate growth and development.
Agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, housing, infrastructure, energy, and communications have been adversely affected in varying degrees in the countries battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Ambassador La Rocque said at the opening of the 45th Regular Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
COTED’s main responsibility is to ensure that the trade and economic policies of the community are supportive of growth and development in member states. The secretary- general noted too that the economic impact of the natural disasters is not limited to the affected countries alone but extend to the entire Caribbean region.
“Even as relief efforts continue, the task of reconstruction and rebuilding must get underway. This is critical not only to re-energising the economy, but also to provide for the social needs of the people as they recover from a traumatic experience,” said the Caricom ambassador.
He said too that CARICOM and its institutions, led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), have responded impressively to the situation, while noting that the governments and people of member states have “stood up to be counted in the hour of need of our stricken members and associate members”.
“And now we will all have to play a part in rebuilding the countries in a manner that enhances resilience to adapt to and to mitigate the effects of climate change. We must seize this opportunity and help the countries build back better and become the first climate-resilient nations in the world,” he stated while stressing “we cannot do this alone.”
As a result, CARICOM with the support of the United Nations, will convene a High-Level Pledging Conference on November 21 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Through this event, CARICOM is seeking the co-operation of its international development partners, the private sector and private foundations to help rebuild the countries ravaged by these hurricanes.
“A broader objective is to assist the entire community to improve its resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change. We must prepare for the next catastrophic hurricane, flood or drought, since climate change is the new normal. It is clear that we will have to strengthen our capacity to plan for that new normal,” Ambassador La Rocque declared.
He told the region’s ministers that as the Caribbean grapples with the seriousness of vulnerability to catastrophic events, COTED will be called upon to lead in promoting sound policies that will help to strengthen the region’s economic resilience.
Meanwhile, CARICOM’s strategic plan places great emphasis on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as the chosen vehicle in that regard.
But while that is the choice, Ambassador La Rocque said the “reality of the new normal, brought on by the effects of climate change, we need to ask ourselves: is it sufficient? We need to look at our economic sectors and consider ways of making them more resilient to these external shocks”.
He was quick to note, however, that the aforementioned does not negate the importance of the CSME.
“The regimes of free trade in goods and services, movement of skills and capital, and the right of establishment remain vital to our economic well-being. And we have done fairly well in those areas,” he added while noting that issues such as the compliance with provisions of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the decisions of the CARICOM bodies require urgent attention.
Given the binding nature of the treaty and the decisions of the organs, the ambassador stressed the need for COTED to ensure compliance while pointing to matters, primarily agricultural, listed to be discussed during the two-day forum which remains unresolved after a considerable period.
He called for COTED to clearly articulate the rules governing the regime for sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, noting that this would remove all doubt about the actions that are permissible and those that are not.
The secretary-general said too that it is important that areas of uncertainty relative to the free movement of skills must also be removed. He noted that member states must recognise that the free movement of skills has been embraced by the people as a benefit of integration.
“Many have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by this regime. And again, it is my understanding that this regime has worked fairly well.”
But Ambassador La Rocque was quick to note that the system is not perfect, and as such, pose challenges. Some challenges have been experienced by persons seeking to exercise their rights under the regime in accordance with decisions of the COTED and the Conference of Heads of Government.
“And there have been challenges experienced by member states seeking to confer those rights. The Council must move quickly to resolve those issues,” he added. The trade ministers were scheduled to discuss, among other things, the development of a Public Procurement Protocol, a matter which has been on the agenda for some time.
However, the Community Public Procurement Notice Board has since been launched and is aimed at helping both the private sector and government by facilitating the exchange of information on procurement opportunities and contract awards. Suppliers, including small and medium enterprises, can access opportunities in their national space and across the region.
Meanwhile, Chair of COTED, and Minister of Trade and Industry, Trinidad and Tobago, Paula Gopie-Scoon, stressed that the meetings of COTED are significant, noting COTED’s mandate to pursue vigorously the region’s growth and development.
The COTED chair said that as small communities, CARICOM must embrace the role of COTED as stated under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
“We must aim to deepen the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) to realise the full benefits of the treaty,” she said, stressing that as a region, it is necessary to establish and promote measures to enhance production and accelerate diversification of regional economies into new frontiers; new being what would be traditional to others.
“The promotion and development of policies and programmes to facilitate the movement of people and goods, the development of services sector, and science and technological capabilities, are important components toward this diversification initiative,” said Gopie-Scoon.
The Trinidad and Tobago minister of trade and industry said too that the region’s strength depends on a co-ordinated approach to policies, which includes the external economic and trade relations of the community. She called on the regions ministers of trade to demonstrate the resolve to tackle the issues before them in line with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge, echoed the sentiments of both Ambassador La Rocque and the Trinidad and Tobago minister of trade and industry.
The two-day meet will cover a wide range of issues, including matters relating to external trade, in particular, the decision last year by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The meeting concludes today.