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Elizabeth Morgan | CARICOM/CARIFORUM: Improving access to information

Published:Wednesday | November 20, 2019 | 12:31 AM

On Monday and Tuesday, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) met in Georgetown, Guyana, chaired by Dominica’s Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, Francine Baron.

Except for two brief notices in CARICOM Today, stating that the 49th COTED will be held November 18-19, there was hardly any more information about this meeting. On the website of St Vincent and the Grenadine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Commerce, I noted that the Caribbean Forum of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States (CARIFORUM), was scheduled to have its 26th Ministerial Conference by video on Thursday, November 14. St Vincent and the Grenadines is the current chair of CARIFORUM.

This ministerial meeting, I assume, was in preparation for the ACP Summit to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, December 9-10. Following inquires, I learnt that it was postponed. A senior officials meeting of the CARIFORUM/European Union (EU) Trade and Development Committee of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is to be held in Brussels, Belgium, on November 26-29. Preparations are now being made for the second five-year review of the implementation of the CARIFORUM/EU EPA. We will perhaps hear more about this meeting from the EU.

LITTLE INFORMATION AVAILABLE

My concern is how little information is available through CARICOM and CARIFORUM about these meetings, which make them very difficult to follow by persons not in government. For COTED, it is not clear what items are on the agenda. I assume that as customary, the ministers dealt with intra-regional trade in goods, implementation of the CSME, and external trade matters, among other things. We will see some coverage of the opening ceremony with a summary of the statements of the secretary general and the chair, as the Guyanese media is usually present and the secretariat posts the statements.

Other than these, very little information may emanate from the COTED, which should be dealing with important trade and development issues. At the end of a COTED meeting, we now do not see a communique or press release which gives some indication of the deliberations and the outcomes.

In the case of CARIFORUM, general information about the group is actually on the CARICOM website but is not readily visible. CARIFORUM needs a Facebook page and a link to it on the CARICOM and ACP websites. On this page, we should be able to find information about CARIFORUM/ACP/EU activities, the political strategy, the EPA and the post-Cotonou negotiations, particularly the CARIFORUM/EU regional protocol.

The CARICOM website needs to be reviewed and revised to make it more user-friendly and to ensure that it is providing information to CARICOM users.

DERESTRICT DOCUMENTS

CARICOM and CARIFORUM documents for meetings are restricted. In my view, there should be a policy for derestricting certain documents after a period of time. The agenda for a meeting should at least be available.

AVAILABILITY OF TRADE STATISTICS

Another problem encountered is the availability of regional trade statistics. Quite often, these statistics are outdated. On the International Trade Centre’s trade statistics database, there are often gaps in the information for a number of CARICOM member states. Statistics for trade in services are just not available.

Much more needs to be done in CARICOM member states to improve the collection of trade in services data. It is thus very difficult to properly analyse regional trade without current, complete, and reliable trade statistics.

For persons in civil society to be able to participate in the activities of CARICOM and CARIFORUM and to represent the region at meetings, it must be possible to access information. Improved access would also be useful to those of us trying to monitor, report and comment on developments in CARICOM and CARIFORUM.

I am calling on the CARICOM Secretariat, the CARIFORUM Directorate and member states to improve access to information. Also, using the recent town hall meeting as an example, there is need for more direct engagement with stakeholders.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com