Ross Sheil, Staff Reporter
( L - R ) GONZALVES, MILLER, PREVAL and DOUGLAS
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts:
GATHERED MONDAY in St. Kitts and Nevis for their annual meeting, CARICOM leaders joined to welcome Haiti back into the regional grouping while six countries of the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) officially signed onto the CARICOM Single Market (CSM).
The countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad Tobago all joined on January 1.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the four-day Conference of Caribbean Heads of Govern-ment held at the East Caribbean Central Bank, host Prime Minister Denzil Douglas stressed that despite the delay, the OECS was still committed to further integration. Mr. Douglas stressed that the OECS economic sub-union, due in July 2007, should not be seen as an attempt to subvert the CSM.
"Indeed, as we accelerate and deepen the integration process in the OECS, it is our aim that the OECS union would be seamlessly integrated into the CARICOM Single Market and Economy," he said.
The sub-union, he noted, was crucial to assist the smaller OECS in what he said was "bound to be somewhat lopsided" in joining with larger nations. He said that the Regional Development Fund alone, currently set at US$120 million with a target of US$250 million, would not be sufficient to help those countries integrate with their larger neighbours.
Although as Ralph Gonzalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines observed, the OECS was pioneering ahead of the CSM nations with their own integration process, which includes their own currency, the Eastern Caribbean dollar.
Assuming Jamaica's role as leader of CARICOM external relations, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller took the stage to a round of applause.
Mrs. Simpson Miller responded by telling her audience that: "To make regionalism real to our people, they must see that our deliberations and our decisions, have everything to do with improving their standard of living and reducing the poverty rate in our various countries."
STRENGTHENING OF TIES
Welcoming Haiti and recognising the presence of Haitian President Renee Preval, who was also attending the conference for the first time, Mrs. Simpson Miller said that its return (it was expelled in 2004 following the overthrow of then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide) restored CARICOM to its full strength.
"We must now look forward to a future with Haiti taking its rightful place in CARICOM. We look forward to the day when Haiti will become a full participant in the CSME," she said.
Speaking through a translator Mr. Preval congratulated his fellow debutante, Mrs. Simpson Miller, as well as thanking her predecessor P.J. Patterson for his role in CARICOM.
Said Mr. Preval: "During the next five years of my new mandate, I will work my hardest to contribute towards the strengthening of ties between my country and yours and I will work with you for the advent of a Caribbean which will be more brotherly, stronger and more united when faced with mutual challenges."