PM pulls out of Caricom meeting

PM pulls out of Caricom meeting

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

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JAMAICA'S Prime Minister Andrew Holness will be absent when the Caribbean Community (Caricom) meets today in Bridgetown, the Barbados capital, for their 31st intersessional meeting, Jamaica House confirmed yesterday.

There were suggestions yesterday that the Caricom meeting — the first time since a public tiff surrounding a visit to Jamaica by United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — could be overshadowed by that row, but it was not clear yesterday why Holness will not be attending.

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, who led regional leaders who criticised the decision by Pompeo to hand-pick the Caricom states invited to attend the talks in Kingston, will chair the heads of government meeting.

Holness, who hosted Pompeo last month, had downplayed the significance of only some Caricom members being invited to the talks.

Before the January 21 arrival of Pompeo, Mottley had argued that the meeting was an attempt to divide Caricom.

“As chairman of Caricom, it is impossible for me to agree that my foreign minister should attend a meeting with anyone to which members of Caricom are not invited,” declared Mottley in a position which was shared by Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Grenada's Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, among others.

But following a meeting with Pompeo, Holness told a media briefing that Jamaica did not want to see, and would not engage in any policy that would divide Caricom.

“Caricom is an important fraternity of countries. But more than that it is the fraternity, and we want to keep it that way. In modern diplomatic relations, in the exercise of foreign policy, we all must respect the sovereignty of countries to determine how they structure their foreign policy.

“We are friends with the United States, so we are happy to host here, not to the exclusion of anyone, and if anyone wanted to attend, they just had to signal. From my perspective we would have done everything to ensure that they are present,” declared Holness.

Pompeo also denied that the US was trying to drive a wedge through the region.

“There is no intent by the United States to divide Caricom. Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. We want all the countries of this region to prosper and be successful. We want to invite them all to be part of the economic prosperity security zone that is this region. We welcome the leadership that Jamaica has demonstrated in this region, in Caricom,” said Pompeo.

While the rift over Pompeo's Jamaica visit is not on the agenda it is certain to dominate the sidelines.

Officially Caricom heads are scheduled to deliberate on a regional approach to the coronavirus (Covid-19) as well as the continuing challenges posed by non-communicable diseases.

They are also expected to examine the status of implementation of provisions of the Caricom Single Market and Economy.

In this regard, the Caricom leaders are expected to have an engagement with representatives of the region's private sector, labour, and civil society.

Among other pressing economic development matters, the meeting is expected to discuss digital transformation in Caricom and an action plan for elimination of regional roaming charges.

The need for ongoing advocacy against the challenges of blacklisting, de-risking, and withdrawal of correspondent banking services is also expected to get the attention of the heads of government.

They are also expected to discuss a proposed Caricom/African Summit, among a number of other foreign and community relations matters.

The leaders are also expected to address crime, violence, and security issues affecting the region.

The meeting, at Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, is scheduled to begin at 9:00 am today and end on Wednesday.

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who was scheduled to address the opening session, has cancelled his trip amid criticisms over his Government's handling of anti-pipeline protests which have affected rail service in the country.

Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will attend the Caricom meeting in place of Trudeau.


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