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Published:Monday | March 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Haiti at top of CARICOM leaders agenda

Sandra Ann Baptiste,
Contributor

Leaders from the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM) gathering in Dominica for a two-day meeting will have Haiti and high-level discussions with the World Bank at the top of their agenda.

The March 11-12 talks at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau, the Dominica capital, will be held against the backdrop of forecast by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that the recovery of the region's economies will not be realised until 2011. Several CARICOM countries, most recently Jamaica, have turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance to stabilise their economies.

Steps to accelerate the full implementation of the Caribbean Single Market (CSM) will be discussed at the Inter-sessional meeting under the chairmanship of Dominica's Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerritt.

The Heads of Government talks are fresh on the heels of a productive inaugural CARICOM-Mexico Summit.

Support for Haiti

CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington confirmed that CARICOM's programme of assistance to Haiti, devastated by the January earthquake, would be accorded priority at the Roseau talks. He expressed confidence that the region's leaders will press ahead with measures that advance the regional integration process.

The Dominica meeting will centre on the modus operandi for CARICOM's new Strategic Office in Jamaica headed by former Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, who is CARICOM's special envoy on Haiti. The small unit in Kingston is expected to have a team of five.

The Heads of Government have also established a CARICOM Haiti Support Unit in the Secretariat, headed by Assistant Secretary-General Colin Granderson and the CARICOM Office in Haiti is also being strengthened.

Patterson will report to the CARICOM leaders on the outcome of the January meeting he attended in Montreal of the international Coordination Committee, created to organise an international conference to devise a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Haiti.

The meeting will also review plans for establishing a CARICOM Regional Health facility in Haiti, identified as the priority area of assistance for the hurricane-ravaged CARICOM member state.

The facility, expected to be set up outside of the capital Port-au-Prince, will involve the rotation of medical specialists from across the region, primarily surgeons and public health specialists.

The region's leaders will also discuss how CARICOM can best assist Chile, which was hit on February 27 by one of the strongest earthquakes in recent history.

Talks with the World Bank

When World Bank President Robert B. Zoelleck meets the CARICOM leaders in Roseau, the CARICOM Secretary-General expects the meeting to focus on financing mitigation and adaptation measures with regard to climate change and "the crippling debt burden of those member states which have achieved middle-income status and, therefore, currently due to their graduation, do not qualify for concessionary debt reduction."

CSM review

The CARICOM leaders will receive a report on the comprehensive audit of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) conducted by the CARICOM Secretariat over a nine-month period.

The overall assessment is that all five core single market regimes - movement of goods, movement of skills, the right of establishment, movement of capital and provision of services - are functioning.

The report, however, stated that "The CSM is accessible but not always at the level of effectiveness, in respect of the treatment to which CARICOM nationals are entitled."

The appraisal identified a number of gaps that the region's governments need to address and underscored that they "need to go the extra mile" to realise the full potential of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

One of the key messages in the report is that when member states pass legislation, they must convert this into regulations and administrative directives, otherwise the legal instruments will not have the intended effect, as evidenced in a number of areas.

The need to considerably strengthen the CSME units in member states was also highlighted.

Tourism issues

The Roseau meeting will also review ongoing efforts to convince the British Government to remove the inequity that currently exists with the application of the Airport Passenger Duty on travel from the UK to the Caribbean, which is expected to further reduce the price competitiveness of the region's ailing tourism industry.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) believes there are clear indications that the marketplace is recovering and a regional approach will be the most effective way to facilitate that recovery.

"If, as a region, we can find the resources to market the Caribbean in a strong, effective, sustainable campaign, we will give ourselves the advantage of our combined strength. Economies of scale will allow us to purchase our media more wisely and our sheer presence in the key markets will be tremendously enhanced," the CTO Secretary-General Hugh Riley advised.

Climate Change

On climate change, the focus will be on a regional strategy in response to the highly compromised Copenhagen Accord on Climate Change. While CARICOM was pushing for a 1.5 degree centigrade threshold for emissions, the Copenhagen Accord, which resulted from the international climate change conference in Denmark, fell short of that mark.

With the worrying implications of this for small-island developing states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, the challenge for the region is lobbying for more effective results on emissions, funding for mitigation and disaster management, and for accelerated transfer of technology. The next United Nations meeting on climate change will be held in Mexico in November.

Encouraging Developments

A welcome but long overdue move is the plan by four more CARICOM countries to join Guyana and Barbados in acceding to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The Trinidad-based CCJ, launched in 2005, has an appellate municipal jurisdiction and a decisive role in how the CSME functions by applying the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

Hurdles have been cleared to pave the way for the setting up of the Joint CARIFORUM- EC Council, the highest institution governing the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between CARIFORUM countries and the European Union (EU). An update will also be provided in Roseau on negotiations for a trade and development agreement between CARICOM and Canada.

Another significant development is the proposed Caribbean Public Health Agency. The full-fledged agency will involve the merging of five regional bodies that is expected to result in a first-rate regional public health facility, with the main campus in Trinidad and Tobago. The agency will be phased in over the next four years with an initial US$6-million budget.

The Dominica meeting will also review plans for the imminent launching in Suriname of the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency. The region's agricultural producers and exporters will undoubtedly welcome this move as the organisation's two key initial activities will be training and providing guidance on sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations, to ensure that they are uniform across the region and meet international standards.

Budget and Human Resources

As customary, arising out of the Dominica meeting, will be additional projects for the CARICOM Secretariat. There has been no increase in the Secretariat's core budget for the past two years. Senior Secretariat officials are constantly engaged in resource mobilisation to finance the increasing mandates emanating from summits and ministerial meetings.

The heads of government should, perhaps, reflect on the well-known situation of "burn out" at the Secretariat and the related risk of losing valuable and dedicated regional officials.

Business and Labour views

Both private sector and labour leaders say they want to see a greater commitment to the regional integration process from the heads of government, beginning with the removal of CSM bottlenecks.

The Barbados-based Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) feels much more needs to be done to give teeth to legislation governing the CSM, especially regarding the movement of skills. In particular, the CCL feels immigration officers have too much discretion and may not be following the agreed criteria for entry into member states.

The Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) wants the heads of government to press ahead with the setting up of a regional stock exchange and a Caribbean Credit Bureau, issues senior CARICOM Secretariat officials feel should be private-sector driven.

CAIC is also calling for the removal of all remaining barriers to intra-regional trade and movement on the establishment of a CARICOM Financial Services Agreement (CFSA) which would provide, among other things, specific rules and conditions for the removal of restrictions on banking, insurance, and other financial services operating within the CSME.

The CARICOM Secretary-General has urged the region's finance ministers to take "immediate action" on the CFSA and has also called for "urgent resolution" on issues such as the CARICOM Development Fund and the regional tourism marketing campaign.

Sandra Ann Baptiste is a business consultant and specialist in Caribbean affairs