THE talk at the formal opening session of the 33rd annual Summit of Caricom Heads of Government in St Lucia last Wednesday was quite good.
Indeed, statements from outgoing chairman, Suriname's Desi Bouterse, and new chairman and host Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, as well as Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Guyana's President Donald Ramotar were all quite enlightening and uplifting in their separately voiced reaffirmations to make a success of the 39-year-old regional economic integration movement.
Now we await the decisions made on new initiatives to be pursued, given the unrehearsed unanimity in the voicing of a shared sentiment that there is no alternative to regional economic integration and that Caricom, for all its real and perceived weaknesses, is still the best possible vehicle for travelling the often bumpy, and at times painful, route in fulfilling the vision of 'One Community for One People".
At the time of writing, the official communiqué from the three-day conference, which concluded on Friday evening, was not available. High expectations were, however, being maintained for resolution of outstanding issues of regional importance.
Trade and CCJ
Among these are the recurring verbal tussles over the need for fair trade that had emerged as a challenging pre-Summit problem for Jamaica and Barbados with Trinidad and Tobago being pushed on the defensive to offer concessions for its singular dominance of intra-regional trade.
With T&T's Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar seemingly in a concilliatory mood and quite conscious of the pre-Summit warnings of dissatisfaction over trade disadvantages from both Jamaica and Barbados, positive signals of accommodation by Port-of-Spain were emerging even before the release of the conference communiqué.
Of course, in addition to lingering bitterness in relation to unfair trading practices and disenchantment over lack of effective regional governance, the Community's citizens would be anxious to also learn of the results of discussions on overdue wider membership support for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
And at the core of such public interest, at this time, would be whether the Government in Port-of-Spain may yet succeed in securing the support it has required for an amendment to the Revised Caricom Treaty for a two-phased access to the CCJ as its final appeal court, starting with cases on criminal matters while still maintaining ties with the British Privy Council on all constitutional and civil cases.
Disappointingly, too many Caricom governments continue to behave as if they are yet to familiarise themselves with the relevant provisions of the Caricom Treaty on settlement of trade disputes and, relatedly, the original jurisdiction of the CCJ in helping to overcome such problems.
Of REDjet & LIAT
There also remain deep concerns about whether any progress was achieved for much-needed improvement in the vital area of regional air transportation, while too many Community governments continue to speak with forked tongues on the importance and value of the service that LIAT continues to provide daily as the sole, authentic intra-regional airline.
Over a year ago, with much public relations-driven media hype, the privately owned carrier REDjet launched its inaugural low-fare service from Barbados to Guyana, having earlier failed to secure startup operations in Jamaica, and while still awaiting an operational licence from Trinidad and Tobago. It was quite optimistic about emerging as the preferred airline on intra-regional routes.
But as subsequent developments have established, REDjet's optimism of beating the competition, in particular LIAT, was misplaced, and by last March 16 came the suspension of all services and the beginning of public protests by Barbadian ticket holders clamouring for refunds.
Prior to REDjet becoming the latest casualty in lamentable scenarios over the years of failed private and government-owned intra-regional airlines, LIAT kept hope alive for new approaches for improvements in regional air transportation with supporting initiatives from governments. But this continues to be elusive — minus the rhetoric — from the majority of Caricom administrations.
In the circumstances, it would be useful for the public to learn of the nature of the expected discussion on regional air transportation and what new initiatives, if any, may be forthcoming after Caricom's latest summitry politics in St Lucia.