…as COTED forum gets underway
By Mondale Smith
CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, is convinced that a major factor that affects the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)’s competitiveness and therefore the ability to maximize opportunities; both within the single market and externally, is the health of the workforce.
The region’s top diplomat expressed this compelling notion yesterday as the forty-first meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) got underway at the Guyana Pegasus.
“Our region has consistently been recorded among the highest mortality rates related to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), of any region in the Americas, with heart diseases and diabetes responsible for the greatest number of deaths.
“Statistics show that half of the adult population has the presence of at least three of the four major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.”
He reflected that over the last 50 years there has been an exponential rise in obesity and diet-related NCDs in the Caribbean; more than sixty percent of Caribbean adults are overweight.
“An increasing cause for concern also is the rates of overweight and obesity in Caribbean children over recent decades. Seven to twelve percent of preschool-aged children in the region are estimated to be overweight or obese and up to fourteen percent of adolescents in some member states are obese.
“These disturbing statistics point to the need for cross-sectoral action to address the burden of unhealthy diets and related NCDs and the impact on productivity and expenditure, both public and private.
“In particular, some of the areas that lend themselves for action involving the COTED relate to mandatory nutritional labelling on all packaged foods, recommendations on measures to encourage the consumption of healthier foods and disincentives to consumption of less healthy foods. Actions should also be taken to intensify production of and improved productivity for healthy local foods.
“The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated; this council must join this fight to ensure a healthy workforce, to boost competitiveness and productivity by reducing absenteeism in the workplace and the associated cost to the public and private purse with respect to health care. Already you have agreed to work jointly with your colleague ministers in the council for human and social development to address the increasing diet-related health and economic burden to the community.”
“Guiding discussions, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has prepared a brief which sets out the need for a comprehensive, coordinated regional approach to combat this challenge.”
FAR-REACHING BENEFICIAL EFFECTS
During the three days of deliberation, the Council will focus on inter-regional trade; the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) application system; advancing regional public procurement regimes; the CARICOM Development Fund; and the state of trade negotiations amongst partners, including Cuba.
Ambassador LaRocque expressed confidence that the participants have the vision and commitment to realize the obvious potential in the agenda, and that decisions made would have far-reaching beneficial effects on the Caribbean Community.
Among agenda issues is a special session with the private sector, for which Ambassador LaRocque voiced his pleasure, as he has been advocating for its greater involvement in the Council. He said that the importance cannot be over-emphasized, given CARICOM’s commitment to boost growth and employment as underlined in the strategy plan.
The diplomat dubbed the private sector “a critical partner with Government to stimulate economic growth in CARICOM, as it is integral to the formation of public policy for regional and national development; particularly in the areas of Production and Trade and investment as well as finance.
The CARICOM Secretariat embarked on a consultancy of Caribbean export to examine the state of public private dialogue within the region with a view to developing a road towards regional economic development. Building on and in support of the work done with the work of Caribbean export, the secretariat is further working with ‘Compete Caribbean’ to define the agenda for regional climate reform”.
LaRocque said strengthening the public-private linkage will require a deepening of the consultative modes currently used for engagement with the private sector.
Key to facilitate this necessary dialogue, he said, is a representative regional body for the private sector which can reflect the views and interest of the entire spectrum.
“I am sure that we all look forward for the establishment of the long-awaited Caribbean Business Council.”
The Secretary-General posited that a competitive and vibrant private sector is critical for the strengthening of the CSME; the main tool to build its economic resilience and to provide a platform for further integration into the global economy.
“However, there are some areas in the CSME which need to be addressed in order to strengthen the platform on which to base the interface with external partners. These areas include certain elements of the regime for trading goods, the application of technical measures, in particular sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS), trading services and services regulations, investment and competition policies among others.
“As considerations of the future directions of CARICOM external trade policy and strategy at this meeting, the objective of that policy must be grounded in the regional developmental imperatives.”
LaRocque further noted that the language of the strategic plan must contribute to the building of economic and social resilience.
Critically, he said, there must also be coordination between external trade strategies and the community’s foreign policy; a policy that must have the effect of placing regional enterprises of all scales of operations in the best position to take advantage of and participate in global as well as regional value chains.
“A dynamic regional programme of trade and investment promotion to compliment the national trade and investment programmes is also needed. This along with trade and research marketing information would help to further identify CARICOM’s opportunities in the global economy.”
The meeting, he said, offers an opportunity for participants to examine the strategies for regional investment promotions prepared by Caribbean export which benefitted from consultations throughout the Community.
Suriname’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Sieglien Burleson, the Chairperson of the COTED, also presented an overview to the participants.
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