By Peter Richards
PORT OF Spain, Trinidad (CMC) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders began the first step towards the next five decades of regional integration, expressing every confidence that their deliberations and decisions to be taken over the next three days will achieve that objective,
“The Caribbean Community has done well. It is, therefore, fitting that we acknowledge and celebrate our golden jubilee,” host Prime Minister Keith Rowley told the opening ceremony of the 45th regular meeting of CARICOM on Monday night.
He said the early steps taken in Chaguaramas, west of here, where the original treaty was signed on July 4, 1973, by the leaders of Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, “have led us far beyond what the naysayers and doomsayers were certain would have been a short lifespan and another disastrous shattering.
“But here we are today, 50 years on, side by side in mutual solidarity, regard, respect, and esteem. Strong, committed, unified. Together this regional family of nations can examine with pride our achievements during the last half-century.
“We have faced challenges and have risen to overcome them, despite the difficulties, through our cooperation, our shared goals and, above all else, through our friendship within CARICOM.”
Rowley said that it is his belief that if the founding fathers could speak to the Caribbean today, “they would re-emphasise the essential role of this regional leadership, to empower our people to navigate the storms that the international order consistently throws our way.
“Our regional integration movement has not only survived but it has thrived, expanded and flourished. Whilst we recognise that there is a whole lot more to be attained, at this juncture, we can proudly say that we have been going in the right direction and with renewed confidence and vigour,” Rowley said.
CARICOM Secretary General, Dr. Carla Barnett told the opening ceremony that despite the global crises, the deleterious effects of climate change and natural disasters, and the ongoing threats to the security of of the region’s population “the achievements of the past five decades are proof that vision and concerted action are critical to achieving sustainable prosperity and security for our region.
“Time and again, despite changing global realities, our community has demonstrated the resolve and resilience necessary to maintain the course of integration,” Barnett said, adding that CARICOM has done well and “it is therefore fitting that we acknowledge and celebrate our golden jubilee.
“I have every confidence that our deliberations and decisions over the next days of meeting will set us on course for another 50 successful years,” she said.
In his address, the CARICOM chairman and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that the past 50 years of CARICOM have seen many achievements.
“We deserve to be proud of our history. It is no mean feat that we are the longest surviving economic integration movement in the developing world and second only to the European Union globally. It is with justifiable pride that we should all say I am CARICOM.
“Even as we celebrate this landmark in the evolution of our integration movement, we must be mindful that the symbols and events of celebration do not serve as a distraction from the substance of the heavy lifting still needed to make our Community viable, prosperous, secure and beneficial to all of its people.”
Skerrit said that as the region sets itself new targets to ensure that it thrives in this ever-changing global environment, “there are unfinished tasks that we must complete”.
He saif the issues of free movement, non-tariff barriers to trade, reliable and affordable transportation are all fundamental to a truly integrated CARICOM.
“We must address our minds and collective will to resolve some key issues. We have the opportunity on this historic occasion, and as we deliberate over the next few days, to take some decisions that can be truly transformative for our people, and which will shape the future of our Community for the next 50 years.”
The Dominican Prime Minister reminded his audience that on the eve the 50th anniversary he had posed a question to the entire region, namely “what is really preventing us from reviving the Single Domestic Space that once allowed our citizens to traverse freely across our region”.
He said the Caribbean had already tried and tested the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), which allows Immigration and Security personnel in each of our countries, full access to the details of every passenger boarding an aircraft or ferry.
“The APIS system, also makes a nonsense of the continued use of ED forms. Additionally, the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security System (IMPACS) and the Regional Security System, (RSS), institutions that we have relied on during the toughest of times are both well equipped to compliment the workings of the Advanced Passenger Information System.
“My distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to make intra-regional travel a joy rather than a hassle. Sixteen years ago, we showed considerable commitment and political will to allow our people to move freely through 10 member states. It worked then; it can work now,” Skerrit said.
He said similar political will must be brought to bear, on the issues of expansion of the categories for free movement of skilled nationals to benefit the growth and expansion of the regional economy and the spirit of our Community.
“The reality is that in any free trade arrangement within an integration movement, there will be those who benefit more than others. We recognise this in our Revised Treaty. It is therefore incumbent upon us all, to strive to increase the ability of the less endowed to participate more fully in the trading arrangements.
“We must all seek to make our arrangements more equitable and use the provisions of the Treaty in a more positive manner. It is true, that there are dispute mechanism procedures but we are all in this together for the benefit of the entire CARICOM.
“This is the true spirit of Community. We are our brothers and sisters ’keeper not only in times of disasters, but in all things. Ladies and Gentlemen unity in economic well being, in security, in health, and in disaster management must be translated into all our processes. This must be the mantra that propels us into the next 50 years.”
Skerrit said that another issue which must be addressed, is that of regional travel.
“We are all very aware of the challenges of making air and sea transportation more efficient and affordable; but I dear say, it is for these insistent challenges, that our region looks most to this CARICOM Community for solutions.
“Colleague heads, we need now to actively pursue creative, and affordable partnerships to deliver on this crucial element of integration in the interest of our people. The movement of people and goods are the backbone of a successful integration arrangement.”
He said all the studies, and the statistics point to the favourable outcome of an effective transportation system.
“I accept that this is a challenge that requires investments which may not see an immediate return. It requires confidence that the provision of such a service will boost commercial opportunities and encourage more intra-regional travel.
“Our drive to reduce our food import bill by 25% by 2025 depends in large measure on intra-regional transportation. The early indications are that our agriculture sector is rising to the challenge. We need our entrepreneurs, therefore, to look favourably upon the opportunities available in the transportation sector and be there for the long haul.”
But Skerrit said that as the region reflects and deliberates on the challenges of true integration, it must address the complex issues facing Haiti.
“We have committed as a Community to supporting the Haitian people; to broker a Haitian-led solution, to the instability that they now face. It is a crisis that requires our continued support and the support of the wider international community.
“The initial outreach has met with generally favourable reactions. We are well aware that it is just the beginning, and our engagement must build from that and we must keep the dialogue going until there is not only light at the end of the tunnel, but a station for the stakeholders to disembark from the train, united in purpose and action.
“The trust that the Haitian stakeholders have placed in us, exemplifies the credibility that CARICOM has built over the years.”
Skerrit said going forward it is also important for the young people of the Caribbean to be bold enough to forge a path for CARICOM that takes it to places that where it has not been before or have been too cautious to traverse.
“I am encouraged that our young people have shown much promise and have demonstrated their readiness whether it is in the battle against climate change, their grasp of technology and their leveraging of new technologies to create jobs right at home, their innovation and creativity, allied with entrepreneurship and cultural products, and in sports and the arts.
“Our youth are the present and the future and I am proud that this time around, that they too, are actively involved in the path being mapped out to help them become productive global citizens.
“My dear friends, the region’s 11 million young people are depending on this CARICOM to play a leading role in crime prevention and the elimination of its harmful effects on citizens and societies; Our students are depending on us to harmonise our regional education systems and to set targeted learning outcomes to prepare millennials to not just survive but to thrive, in a fast-paced, global economy,” Skerrit added.