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Reorientation of Caricom's economic compass

Anthony GOMES

Wednesday, May 28, 2014    

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ON 19th May 2013 the Sunday Gleaner published a quotation from the Minister of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade A J Nicholson on the reorientation of Caricom thus: "We would welcome a paper from the private sector with proposals as how this sector and Government could collaborate to make regional integration a success and contribute to the economic growth and development of Jamaica and the region". Basic elements included:

* Establish an association to represent private sector interests at the regional level.

* Participate in a special session of COTED, regarding re-orientation of Caricom as an integration movement.

* Need for greater collaboration between public and private sectors.

* Private sector could participate to explore business opportunities in CELAC in Latin and Caribbean group.

* Include private sector representatives on delegations.

On 15th July 2013 a comprehensive response to this request was sent by the Private Sector Working Group (PSWG) that included for example the following:

"The Private Sector must be allowed and encouraged to participate fully and equally with our GOJ representatives in strategy formulation and in Caricom discussions and negotiations. The sovereign authority of ministers of Government is acknowledged. Nevertheless, there is an obvious and compelling necessity for participation by the elements of growth and production on a new economic dispensation, where governments can no longer control the commanding heights of their economies and must divest equal participation in management to civil society."

Subsequently, meetings were held with the secretary-general of Caricom during his visit to Jamaica, when private sector issues were thoroughly discussed.

On 9th May 2014 the Caribbean Community Secretariat published a press release that dealt, among other matters, with various prominent private sector interests in the secretary-general's opening remarks at the 38th meeting of the COTED in Guyana on 9th May 2014, highlighted sequentially as follows:

* Tomorrow the council begins the process of seeking to re-engage one of the key stakeholders in our community, the private sector.

* We have long recognised that the full involvement of the private sector was necessary in order to achieve our economic goals.

* The task is to create a structure that will give the private sector a meaningful role in assisting to set the policy objectives.

* This type of involvement would certainly increase the likelihood of creating the environment conducive to conducting business and attracting investment, both of which are critical to providing employment and a platform for economic growth.

* Energy affordability and efficiency.

* Public Private Partnerships.

* In all of these, the interests of the private sector must be taken into account as it is from within that group lies the greatest possibility of advancing the various initiatives.

The SG added: "As I have said repeatedly, prioritisation is essential. We need to focus our attention on a few strategic priorities which make a difference to our sustainable growth and development. That is the change that the reform process seeks to bring."

Minister Nicholson's opening remarks in his statement to the Senate focused mainly on two of the key issues of importance to Jamaica, and "other agenda items of specific interest at the regular COTED, and a brief report on the special session with the regional private sector".

A principal item before the COTED was negotiations for a Caricom-Canada Trade & Development Agreement in a Seventh Round of negotiations. Also, a follow-up to the Special 37th Session on 9th November 2013 on the strategic direction of COTED, to which the private sector had contributed earlier, concurs that "COTED needed to have the greater involvement of the regional private sector".

The special session with the regional private sector proposed that "the COTED consider convening sessions focusing particularly on industrial policy and services". According to the minister, it is now expected "that the private sector representatives will meet among themselves to define priority interests; to determine how they can contribute to the process; and what support they would need from COTED to implement the growth and development agenda outlined by the Caricom Heads of Government and the Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP). The sector will also be expected to establish time frames for the engagement. It has to be recognised that these deliberations among the private sector must, as a matter of urgency, commence at the national level".

The Minister concluded: "This session with the private sector is considered a signally important step for COTED in moving forward with growth and development in the region. I continue to encourage the full involvement and participation of Jamaica's private sector in the advancement of our common objectives in the national, regional and international trade and economic development agenda."

When the content of the secretary-general's opening remarks described above, which dealt copiously with a definitive direction for the future role of the private sector, the minister's sparse reference to this important consideration was less informative than expected. A better understanding of the ministry's perspective regarding the secretary-general's direction, and proposed closer interaction with Government on aspects of trade and development should form part of the new association for which the private sector stands "ready, willing and able".

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