THE 33rd regular annual Heads of Government Conference of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) takes place this week in Castries, St Lucia, with the region's external relations, and the European Union (EU) in particular, expected to be a major focus of attention.
A special guest for the three-day summit, which begins on Wednesday, will be the secretary general of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (APC) states, Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas.
The community's Heads of Government are expecting a critical assessment from Dr Chambers of changing priorities by the European Union (EU) — currently in the throes of an economic crisis — with threatened negative impact on this region in the areas of development aid and trade.
The need to evolve a co-ordinated strategy to influence international support for the ACP countries to have a regional representational right at the level of the powerful G-20 forum is also expected to be an issue for consideration during exchanges with Dr Chambers.
The EU and the USA remain the two most dominant trade partners of the Caribbean region but increasingly China and, to a lesser extent, India, have been making significant inroads on their long-held hemispheric trade turf.
Of immediate concern for this region are the implications of the EU governing Council's endorsement of a decision by the European Commission (EC) of an 'Agenda for Change' that outlines proposed new approaches in the framing of budgetary support for third countries, among them middle-income states in the Latin America-Caribbean region.
When they held their 32nd annual summit last year in St Kitts and Nevis, a special guest was the EC Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, with whom the Heads had shared their perspectives on what's known as the Joint Caribbean-EU Strategy (JEUCS), intended as successor to the current 'EU-Caribbean Partnership for Growth, Stability and Development' launched in 2006.
However, beyond external trade and economic relations, the Caricom leaders, meeting under the chairmanship of host Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, would also be expected to move away from the surprising decision taken at that special summit in Guyana to press the "pause button" on the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Not only did that "pause" decision further weaken faith in the regional economic integration process, it provoked critical questions about seeming contempt for Caricom citizens by the Heads of Government in the manner of their governance of an economic integration movement now in its 39th year.
At their 2011 summit in Basseterre, the Heads eventually bit the proverbial bullet to overhaul the system of governance of Caricom where a poorly staffed and tired, if not disillusioned, secretariat will give way to enlightened and effective management .
Yet this promise of new governance may not be a reality, even in the next three years when the CSME was originally expected to be a "lived reality".
What new initiatives, therefore, can be expected to emerge from this week's 33rd summit in Castries? Can one hope that the Caricom leaders may come to realise that in announcing their decision to put arrangements for the CSME on "pause" they have simply succeeded in spreading the mood of cynicism and discontent across the 15-member Community?
Among matters of immediate concern to some member states would be widening of the membership base of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the regional institution as a final appeal court in place of the British Privy Council.
At present, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — the two Caricom countries to first gain their political independence 50 years ago from Britain — are still engaging in old-style divisive colonial politics over the modalities of delinking from the Privy Council in preference for the CCJ as their regional court of last resort.
CCJ and WI cricket
Also awaiting implementation action is that seminal report on the future development of West Indies cricket -- the game with which so much of our political, social and cultural history is interwoven.
The Castries July 4-6 summit is the place and time for some meaningful action on the Governance Committee on West Indies Cricket Report of October 2007.
After all, resulting from the deliberations of a Heads of Government summit, hosted and chaired by then Prime Minister Anthony, arrangements were pursued for the establishment of the 'Governance Committee' under the chairmanship of former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson.
Last March, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had succeeded in stimulating fresh interest among fellow Heads of Government when they met in Suriname to bring an end to the controversies involving Chris Gayle's exclusion from the West Indies team.
Well, she can hardly miss the opportunity to raise with Prime Minister Anthony this week in Castries the necessity to influence the West Indies Cricket Board to demonstrate some practical interest to get the ball rolling on the wide-ranging recommendations outlined in the Patterson-chaired committee.
After this week's summit, we shall soon learn what new initiatives are to be pursued on the CSME, external economic relations, governance of the community, West Indies cricket, and the burning issue of regional air transportation.