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Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves (File photo).

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Incoming chair of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, has warned against reversal of progress within the nine-member sub-regional grouping.

“We have been proceeding on the assumption that because we are making progress it is always inevitable,” Gonsalves said Sunday evening at the opening of the 55th Meeting of the OECS Authority at the Buccament Bay Resort.

“I don’t want us to think that we cannot suffer reversals. To be sure, and I reiterate, we have made immense progress since the original Treaty of Basseterre was singed in 1981. Our Revised Treaty of Basseterre, signed in 2010, has made a quantum leap in regional governance and the creation of a single economic space. But challenges abound,” he further stated.

But Gonsalves said the global economic crisis that “ought to cause us to bind ourselves ever more closely in a more perfect union contains ingredient to fragment and divide us.

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“Remember, too, that our very islandness sometimes engender unseemly nationalism or even chauvinistic impulses. So let us be reminded that divisiveness and West Indian unity are riding partners,” he told OECS leaders and their representatives.

Gonsalves said that the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which the OECS is a part, “has suffered severe setbacks recently and is currently on pause in its quest for a single economy.

“Let us avoid these kinds of reversals in the OECS. That is why I urge that above all, we must love and care for the OECS. … We may have membership and associations with a series of other regional entities — cross-cutting regional mechanism. I say to you, from the benefit of my experiences, this OECS is our anchor in the dangerous regional and global communities,” said Gonsalves, who noted his 44 years of political activism.

The meeting, which begins in earnest on Monday and concludes on Tuesday, must have an “overriding focus” on OECS citizens, especially the poor, marginalised, and the sick, Gonsalves said.

The talks must advance economic growth, job and wealth creation, poverty reduction, citizens’ security and the strengthening of good governance and democracy, especially the preservation of an independent judiciary,” he further stated.

‘Determination to succeed’

“I assume the chairmanship of the OECS for the next year with humility, a determination to succeed and a renewed sense of commitment and purpose,” Gonsalves said as he outlined his focus over the next year.

“First, we must all love and care for the OECS. This sounds simple. The cynical may consider it trite or woolly. Far from it, it is the most important consideration or goal — to love and care for the OECS,” he said as he likened the OECS to “part of our extended family.

“Our love and caring for the OECS must protect and preserve it and contain our hopes and faith for the future. In every thing we do or say politically, we must have the OECS at its centre. We must approach its work with steadfastness and creativity. It must bind us evermore together and our governments must make every effort to pay the dues required for the OECS and its organ to survive and thrive,” Gonsalves further said.

The new OECS chair said that over the next year, leaders must continue to consolidate OECS gains and its institutions or mechanisms that deliver value to its people.

“The gains flow especially from our freedom of movement, our coordinated and integrated work in money and banking, the judiciary, civil aviation, education and health, telecommunications, the environment, marine maters, external trade and foreign policy, national security, poverty reduction, and capacity building.”

He further said the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, which established the OECS Economic Union, must take root.

“We have heard about a lot of work which is being done. But we have to make sure that its takes solid root. This recent advance in our sub-regional governance depends and improves the integration mechanism.”

The OECS Authority has been given additional power on a wider range of subjects and the new institutions such as the OECS Assembly, the OECS Commission, and the Economic Affairs Council must be placed on a solid footing, Gonsalves said.

“Vitally, all matters resident in the annex and the Economic Union protocol are to be fully elaborated and put within appropriate juridical frameworks over the next year. The protocol is of great importance, for example, for the freedom of movement of persons and goods,” Gonsalves said.

He added that a host of trade issues are also to be fine-tuned, even as he said, “The workload is hefty, the agenda is heavy-laden and the hands are few.”

Under his chairmanship, Gonsalves would also like to see the OECS finalise all the necessary arrangement for the Revised Treaty to be accorded special and differential statement in the CARICOM treaty.

The OECS must navigate itself properly in its own interest through and within a series of other crosscutting regional mechanism, Gonsalves said.

He mentioned CARICOM, the Economic Partnership Agreement between CARIFORUM and the OECS Economic Union, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, proposed OECS associate membership arrangements of Martinique and Guadeloupe, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), and trading and development arrangements with other countries such as the United States and Canada.

“The OECS has to navigate itself through all of these crosscutting integration and regional mechanism,” Gonsalves said.

The opening ceremony also heard addresses from outgoing OECS chair, St. Lucia’ Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony and OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael.

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