Caricom wants Britain to do more for region's citizens

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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LONDON, England (CMC) — Caribbean Community (Caricom) countries say they are still in the global economic crisis mode and appealed to Britain to help provide "concrete measures" that would improve the socio-economic development of the population in the region.

Guyana's Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, addressing the Eighth United Kingdom-Caribbean Forum that ended here yesterday, said that it provides an excellent opportunity for the Caribbean and the UK to engage in productive discussions towards reaching agreement on concrete measures that will contribute to improving the quality of life of our citizens.

"It is an opportunity that we should grasp with both hands," she said, noting that the meeting was taking place at a time of increasing complexity in the global political and economic environment with profound systemic changes taking place.

"This evolving political and economic environment is at the same time particularly unfavourable to the small developing economies of the Caribbean. The developed countries like yours can speak of a post-crisis economic recovery though it remains weak," said Rodrigues-Birkett, who is also the chair of the Caricom Foreign Ministers.

"We in the Caribbean for the most part are still in global economic crisis mode, reeling from its continuing severe impact on our economies. There is little reason for us to be optimistic in the immediate and short term. The external resource flows, private and official, on which our economies rely to stimulate growth, continue to dwindle."

She said that this trend is exacerbated by "our classification as middle income countries and the resulting imposition of "differentiation" and "graduation" which impedes access to concessionary funding" reminding her British counterpart that the issue had been discussed when the regional foreign ministers met with him in Grenada a few years ago.

Rodrigues-Birkett said this inequitable classification is based on one metric, gross domestic product GDP per capita, whichshe described as a "flawed assumption that cannot be a sound measure of development.

"It utterly ignores the susceptibility to external economic shocks, the debt situation and several other vulnerabilities and peculiarities of our small economies," she said, adding "an alternative metric must be considered that takes into account resilience and vulnerability in the context of sustainable development".

She told the forum that when a natural disaster strikes the Caribbean, unlike in the United Kingdom, it is not a localised occurrence with circumscribed effects but a devastating national event which wipes out significant percentages of our GDP.

"Instead of going forward we are constantly rebuilding and replacing lost infrastructure which no doubt has contributed to the high debt situation in several small Caribbean countries. In addition, the increasing frequency and severity of climactic events along with the deepening threats to our security from the mounting illicit trafficking in drugs and small arms through our region, as well as the growing incidence of health pandemics further burden our attempts at economic resilience."

But she told the Forum that the Caribbean is not throwing up its hands in despair.

"Indeed many of our countries notwithstanding the challenges we encounter are set to meet several of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) by the 2015 deadline.

"We are worried that these gains may be reversed if the current trends continue. I must indicate that we are taking steps to address the difficult economic situations in which we find ourselves, undertaking the required structural reforms and applying the bitter fiscal medicine necessary despite their potential unpleasant political side effects."

But she said the region is "counting on our long-standing friends and international development partners, including the United Kingdom, to better understand our present situation and the many constraints that impede our best efforts and to highlight these realities on our behalf in the European Union and in the international decision-making fora such as the G20 where our voices are not heard and our realities perceived as insignificant and thus marginalised.

"We are only asking that the method used to classify us be amended accordingly," she added.

The Guyana foreign minister said that the Caribbean welcomed the announcement earlier this year by the UK government to amend the Air Passenger Duty (APD) bands.

"However, the tax remains, even if it will be at a reduced level. It will therefore continue to impact negatively on the region's tourism industry, an industry that is the economic mainstay of many of the Caribbean States.

"Relying on the close bonds of friendship between the Caribbean and the UK, we see this action as a first step in the right direction. "

Rodrigues-Birkett said the Caribbean also had concerns regarding the provisions of visas business people and artistes seeking to enter EU countries including the United Kingdom, in their efforts to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

"Our students in the United Kingdom are also experiencing difficulties in obtaining job-training placements because of immigration impediments,"' she said, adding "we are more than willing to help ourselves but in attempting to do so we find ourselves hemmed in by obstacles of all sorts. I believe that many of them can be resolved through dialogue leading to a better understanding.

"In this context, we look forward to the exchange of views under the theme of building stronger partnerships for prosperity with emphasis being placed on energy security, the enhancing of skills and education levels that redound to the benefit of youth employability and of our economic development, and on crime and security which are increasingly impinging on our economic and social development."

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