Regional leaders meet to discuss wide ranging agenda at annual summit


Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders open their 40th annual summit here on Wednesday, hoping to further push along the much heralded CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that they regard as the region’s best chance of survival in a changing global environment.

“Basically we will get an update on who has done what and who has not done,” CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque told a news conference, adding that while there has been some progress “but it is not as much as we anticipated”.

CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque speaking to reporters (CMC Photo)

The CSME, which allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region, was the main topic of a special CARICOM summit held in Trinidad and Tobago in December last year.

At the end of the special summit, the regional leaders issued the St. Ann’s Declaration that indicated the CSME is still regarded as being the most viable platform to support the region’s growth and development agenda.

Among the recommendations contained in the Declaration is for a more formalized, structured mechanism for engagement with the region’s private sector and labour, the expansion of the categories of skilled nationals entitled to move freely and work within the Community to include agricultural workers, beauty service practitioners, barbers and security guards.

It also called on government to accept each other’s issued CARICOM Skills Certificate as well as reinforcing regional security mechanisms and permitting the region’s citizens and companies to participate in public procurement processes across the 15-member grouping

LaRocque said that the meeting will also receive an updated report from the Professor Avinash Persaud, who is chairing a 10-member broad-based team, set up last December to advise regional leaders on a regional growth agenda.

The vexing issue of blacklisting by European countries as it pertains to the efforts by Caribbean countries to lure foreign investors through various strategies will be discussed with the host Prime Minister and incoming CARICOM chairman, Allen Chastanet and his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart, Gaston Browne, expected to led off the debate in that area.

Regional countries have longed condemned  Europe for categorising the region as tax havens and LaRocque said that while “we have strategy in place” to deal with the matter, the CARICOM grouping would continue to denounce the moves by Europe.

President Jovenel Moise of Haiti is expected to attend the summit and the regional leaders will no doubt want to get a first-hand report on the unfolding situation in the French-speaking CARICOM country, where opposition forces have been staging street demonstrations in support of their efforts to oust him from office.

“There will be an opportunity for interaction and we have to wait and see what that is,” LaRocque said, noting that CARICOM has in the past “issued a statement calling on all parties to dialogue and also calling for peace and calm and to find a solution to the situation in Haiti.”

President Moise has already said he does not intend to step down and brushed aside suggestions that he is the main cause of the problem in Haiti.

On the issue of Venezuela, LaRocque said that the three leaders appointed by the regional grouping – St. Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley- will be in attendance at the summit and would report to the wider grouping on their deliberations since Caribbean leaders last met in Trinidad in December.

But he maintained “the region remains united on the issue of non-interference and non-intervention as well as wanting peaceful dialogue” in the South America country where the opposition forces, backed by the United States and other western countries are trying to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office.

“We encourage other people on the outside to push for dialogue,” LaRocque said, noting  the role being played by Norway in trying to find a resolution to the crisis.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is attending the three-day summit as a guest of the regional leaders and LaRocque hinted that discussions on Venezuela among other matters would be raised.

“Our region cannot afford to see anything like violent regime change taking place in Venezuela. It is going to impact on us all,” he added.

The opening ceremony will be addressed by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, and LaRocque said that in his discussions with the regional leaders, issues such as climate change and the September 23 Climate Summit as well as  the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)  one-day high-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC);

The CARICOM Secretary General said that several other major matters related to security and regional and foreign relations are also expected to be part of the deliberations.

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