Jul 05, 2013 News
– as CARICOM observes 40th anniversary
By Neil Marks in Port-of-Spain
Leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) yesterday returned to historic Chaguaramas to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the regional trade and integration bloc.
Their message was clear – despite the pessimism, CARICOM remains relevant, with President Donald Ramotar saying the need for integration is even greater today than on July 4, 1973. On that date, the leaders of Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas, establishing CARICOM.
“Today even though much has changed and we have made some progress, the need for integration is probably greater now than when the Treaty was signed years ago.
“The financial and economic crises that began in Europe and North America have impacted heavily on our region and clearly the need for us to have greater integration has become more urgent,” Ramotar said.
In a re-enactment of the signing ceremony 40 years ago, President Ramotar did what Forbes Burnham did back in 1973 for Guyana, but while he saluted the courage and foresight of the original founding fathers, he stayed away from mentioning Burnham’s name, something that the other Prime Ministers did not shy away from doing.
In fact, at the opening ceremony Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart quoted Burnham on the need for the integration of the countries of CARICOM.
While President Ramotar did not call Burnham’s name, he referred to Burnham’s political rival, Dr Cheddi Jagan, the founder of the ruling PPP, and what Jagan saw as important to CARICOM.
Ramotar said that while the 40th anniversary was a cause for celebration, it was also one for reflection, for leaders to consider if they have been effective enough, whether the peoples of the region have benefitted fully from the process.
“We must never forget that our people must see and feel the benefit of integration,” Ramotar stated.
The National School of Dance, Nrityageet dancers, and the Korokwa Folk singing group showcased a slice of Guyanese culture in song and dance, as President Ramotar reaffirmed Guyana’s commitment to CARICOM.
With the introduction of the CARICOM Single Market in 2006, intra-regional trade has grown from approximately US$600 million in 1990 to more than US$3 billion in 2012 moving from 10 per cent of total trade to 15 per cent. Research has shown that this trade can be doubled if certain constraints are addressed, such as harmonising procedures and providing greater certainty to the trade regime.
Ramotar said there was need to move the process forward with more vigour and more purpose. He mentioned several studies and decisions that need implementation.
He pointed to decisions on the regional financial architecture, the Jagdeo Initiative for Agriculture; and the free movement of people and hassle-free travel.
”We know that these measures will redound to the interest of the region and positively impact on the lives of our people. The implementation deficit needs to be resolved lest we find ourselves guilty of a commitment deficit,” Ramotar stated.
The President said he hoped that the reform process currently engaging the Region’s attention will result in a mechanism that is more proactive.
“It is only with more dynamism that the Community would best be able to respond to the fast-changing global environment,” Ramotar said.
Trinidad’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar pointed to rhetoric that CARICOM, as it was originally envisaged, has reached its political, socio-economic and ideological limits.
But she said the reform process which is currently taking place in the Community and which is endorsed by all Heads, is a direct attempt to bring about the institutional and structural reforms which are needed to make CARICOM more relevant in an ever-changing global environment.
In this regard, she urged her colleague Heads of Government to consider expanding membership to welcome the Dominican Republic and the Dutch and French Caribbean islands.
“The Caribbean Sea unites us; it must never divide us,” she stated.
“I don’t think as a region we have anything to be ashamed of,” said Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart. He said that the four founding leaders of the CARICOM had a simple mission, and that was to bring the Region and its people more closely together.
“I need no persuasion that 40 years later the people of this Region are more closely united than any other time in the history of the Caribbean,” he said.
“We have shown the world that we can come together and realise the dreams and aspirations of the people of the region.”
As chair of the Conference of Heads, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar urged continued dialogue and collaboration on regional security, calling for fresh initiatives and perspectives in fighting crime and the drug trade.
She said security threats in the region include, but are not limited to the penetration of porous borders by organized criminals, the proliferation of small arms, and the increase in drug and human trafficking, money laundering and corruption at ports of entry.
“We must develop the regional mechanisms to combat the multiple threats to security in this hemisphere. Our people must be safe and feel safe,” Persad-Bissessar stated.
The Caribbean Human Development Report 2012 suggested that only 46% of regional participants felt secure in their respective states.
“We have an obligation as leaders to ensure that our people are secure, by demonstrating that we engage in a focused and effective war on crime and criminals,” Persad-Bissessar asserted.
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