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Caricom drops 'pause' for new 'action' agenda

ANALYSIS

RICKEY SINGH

Sunday, July 13, 2014    

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THE perennial cynics and doubting Thomases may find it difficult to accept, but they should perhaps take a deep breath and prepare for significant changes in the trade, economic and social development programmes of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) over a five-year period as formally launched last week in Antigua at the 35th regular Heads of Government Conference.

To judge from the range of issues considered and decisions unanimously taken, the Caricom leaders appear to be in a refreshing new action-oriented mood to get things done within set timeframes and via more regular structured involvement with "development partners" -- regionally and internationally -- starting this year and into 2015.

This assessment is based on the lengthy 23-page communiqué released at the conclusion of four days of 'summitry politics' at the meeting of the region's government leaders.

The summit was hosted by Antigua's new Prime Minister Gaston Browne, a first-time head of government of that Eastern Caribbean nation, whose 'father of independence' was Vere Cornwall Bird.

He was also one the principal architects of the birth of the Caribbean Free Trade Area that laid the initial foundation for today's Caricom -- currently in its 41st year of existence.

The summit in Antigua may well have written a new chapter in the history of the economic integration movement to realistically cope with the recurring global and regional challenges that have so often shaken its foundation and spread doubts about its survival.

While it could be wishful thinking to expect applause from the community's entrenched critics and, worse, opponents, a willingness to objectively assess the more significant decisions should prove profitable in understanding the new course being charted for longevity. Basically, the apparent new mood suggests goodbye to the hitherto 'pause' mode in preference for 'action'.

Host Prime Minister Browne may well have spoken for his colleagues when he declared at the ceremonial opening that it was "time to set aside the illusion of national salvation entirely by national effort.... National efforts are crucial in all sectors of our economy and in every aspect of our societies, but such efforts should not discount or disdain regional collaboration...."

Foremost among new decisions taken last week was the unanimous approval of a five-year Strategic Plan (2015-2019) with the building of economic, social, environmental and technological resilience as critical priorities. Hopefully, it would replace sloganeering in favour of properly formulated policies and well-executed programmes.

Regional Economic Commission

In the works for over two years, with valuable contributions from regional experts in economic, fiscal, social and human resource development, and in collaboration with regional and international financial institutions that are traditional partners in the community's progress, this first-ever five-year strategic plan is located in a second report from what's designated as 'The Commission on the Economy'.

Of significance -- coincidental or not -- it is relevant to note that prior to the start of the Antigua Summit, the foreign ministers of Jamaica (AJ Nicholson) and Trinidad and Tobago (Winston Dookeran) signed an agreement in Port-of-Spain to establish a Joint Commission.

The commission is intended to enhance functional co-operation between them and, by extension, avoid the 'war of words' over issues of free trade and free movement of their nationals that have too often threatened bilateral relations between the community's two biggest economies with negative implications for other partners.

Reviving consultations?

For their part, the leadership of the entire 15-member community chose to revive in Antigua the feature of scheduled dialogue with top representatives of the vital private sector during their summit.

That, incidentally, was the norm for many years when delegations from a more proactive Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce and the Caribbean Congress of Labour (seemingly altogether absent in action) would normally meet for a scheduled tripartite working session.

They also took two important related decisions to demonstrate perhaps a new commitment on a work plan which, hopefully, would contrast with their abysmal decision of some two years ago to place on "pause" mode once-promising arrangements for a seamless regional economy, via the Caricom Single Market and Economy, that currently attracts much cynicism among disenchanted citizens.

Of Debt and Marijuana

Two proposed initiatives, involving, among others, the Caribbean Development Bank and University of the West Indies -- both firm pillars of support for Caricom -- call for a "regional fiscal sustainability framework" within six months, and secondly, the design of a "regional debt management mechanism".

As if to further demonstrate a new sense of commitment for getting things done within scheduled timeframes, the community leaders also agreed to appoint a Caricom Debt Advocacy Team.

The team's mandate would be to advocate, on behalf of all member states, by collaborating with "development partners in appropriate debt relief and/or debt amelioration arrangements for the highly indebted Caricom states...."

The bottom line seems to reflect appreciation for the sentiment of one of the Caribbean's greatest poets, Martin Carter -- "all are involved, all are consumed..."

Further, in recognition that access to development resources was proving "a binding constraint to catalysing growth" in member states, the Caricom leaders decided to pursue what they identified as a "resource mobilisation strategy".

That pursuit would be based on approaches to "non-traditional sources of financing and to promote public/private partnerships for development of the region's economic infrastructure with technical advice from the Inter-American Development Bank, CDB and the World Bank.

Additionally, the Heads of Government mandated the Caricom Economic Commission to consider the regulatory framework to promote "venture capital" and other new financial products as well as innovative financing schemes which could support a "growth agenda" that includes the particular needs of small and medium-sized businesses in the community.

And consistent with an earlier pledge, the heads also agreed to establish a Regional Commission on Marijuana. Its mandate is to conduct "a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the region".

The commission is also expected to advise whether there should be a change in the current "drug classification of marijuana to make it more accessible for a range of users..."

In relation to the ongoing issue pertaining to reparations for 'native genocide and slavery', the summit adopted a Regional Strategic and Operational Plan for a Caribbean Reparatory Justice Programme.

They also agreed to despatch a Draft Notice of Complaint under cover of a letter from Barbados' Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in his capacity as chairman of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on Reparations, to the governments of the European Union to request the holding of a conference on reparations, either by year end or early in 2015. The heads also agreed to advance the reparation case during the coming new session of the United Nations General Assembly.

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