by Peter Richards CASTRIES, St Lucia, July 4, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began their 33rd annual summit here on Wednesday bemoaning their failure to implement agreements reached in the past and worried over the continued impact the global economic and financial crisis is having on their respective countries.
In addition, the opening ceremony provided an opportunity for the leaders to again reiterate their commitment to the regional integration movement, underscoring the fact that without CARICOM, such an organisation would have to be invented.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller used the occasion to dispel reports that Kingstown was contemplating leaving the 15-nation bloc amid concerns that it was being unfairly treated, particular in its trading relations with Trinidad and Tobago.
“I want to underscore Jamaica’s commitment to regionalism as a core principle of our foreign policy and external trade policy.
“Jamaica will continue to publicly reiterate the importance of regional integration movement to the attainment of our national development goals and for the advancement of our region as a whole,” she said, acknowledging nonetheless that “the regional concept remains a work in process”.
She told her regional colleagues that if CARICOM was not around “it would have to be invented” adding that it was now important to bring the general population into the whole CARICOM movement.
She also urged that CARICOM consider allowing all categories of workers move freely across the region under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Host Prime Minister and incoming CARICOM Chairman, Dr. Kenny Anthony, said despite the many challenges facing the regional integration at the moment “our people need not feel forlorn” adding at the same time, the region cannot afford its citizens “ to grow cynical and quip a defeatist “c’est la vie in the casualty of perception”
He told the opening ceremony that a day had been set aside during the three-day summit for the leaders to meet in caucus for “frank discourse” on CARICOM.
“We need to talk with each other. I have therefore arranged our agenda to devote an entire day to a caucus of heads, initially alone, and later with our officials. I believe we must take time to share our hopes, dreams and aspirations for our beloved though enigmatic region.
“We must start again by re-establishing the political chemistry that bound us together. We need to re-affirm our common future, our common faith,” he said, adding “we cannot afford to leave the winds of progress uncaught when they blow.
“The gales and harmattans of global politics and economics mean that we must be willing to venture through waters unchartered. We must be enterprising, yet perspective and willing to put into our common cloud the store of knowledge and expertise held throughout our states,” he said.
Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar, said that while the Caribbean had no control over the causes of the global economic crisis, it was nonetheless imperative for the regional leaders to find some aspirations here to address the issues “critical to our region’s economy.
He recalled that in 2002, regional leaders had adopted a framework for stabilising and transforming regional economies and that in 2009, they had issued a declaration on a new framework for financial regulations and supervisions in the region.
“Three years hence, we are back in St. Lucia where the regional economy is still a main item on the agenda. Are we satisfied with the progress we have made, particularly since we had identified the main reforms that were necessary? We should not as a region have to react to situations, but ensure that preventative measures are put in place.
“We must as a region, be more earnest in our efforts to define a development agenda that is responsive to the evolving global circumstances we face and the domestic realities of our smallness and our vulnerabilities”.
Romotar said that with the main trading partners experiencing grave economic and financial difficulties “the situation demands that we find solutions and pursue a path to further the all-round interests of the people of the region”.
In his address, the CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque, said CARICOM Community was also worried that the region could be further impacted by the decision of the European Union to graduate some of the regional countries thereby making it harder for them to obtain concessionary funding..
“This latest situation is added to the fact that the flows of development assistance to CARICOM countries have been decreasing and at least in the short term will continue to do so.
“This is due to the global contraction in bilateral aid arising from the problems in the Eurozone and the relative shift of the financial resources of the IFIs to economic rescue and stabilisation of European economies among other reasons”.
LaRocque said that in such an atmosphere, it is not surprising “that there would be those who would seek to strike out against the multilateralism and cast it as a contributor to the challenges of their individual nations”.
LaRocque said that it is for this reason also that the region should create a competitive society and raise economic growth rates and sustain them in the medium and long term.
He again reiterated that CARICOM was alive despite the many challenges, telling the audience the meeting here “is a further opportunity to explore avenues for collective action aimed at guiding the Community safely through these rough times and to chart the way forward to a sustainable future”.
“This is a time for more integration, for it is through acting in concert that we can both survive and prosper and provide the people of our Community with opportunities to improve their lives,” LaRocque said, adding “that is the objective that we set for ourselves and that is the objective that we must accomplish”.
During the three-hour opening ceremony, former Trinidad and Tobago government minister Dr. Kamaludinn Mohammed was conferred with CARICOM’s highest award, The Order of the Caribbean Community.