Sat | Jun 19, 2021

Elizabeth Morgan | 52nd meeting of COTED: emerging issues on regional affairs

Published:Wednesday | June 9, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith.
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith.
 Ambassador Irwin LaRocque.
Ambassador Irwin LaRocque.
Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley.
Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley.
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The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held its 52nd session virtually on June 1-2. It was chaired by Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. COTED is the organ of CARICOM responsible for, among other things, regional economic integration, including the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), intra-regional trade in goods, and external trade matters such as developments at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

As usual, there was little media coverage. As an outsider, it is not very easy, as I have said before, to follow meetings of COTED. If the CARICOM secretary general-designate, Dr Carla Barnett, recognises that CARICOM is operating in a new world, then she will have to look at media and civil society access to information on meetings of CARICOM organs. It should be known what items are on the agenda and the outcome of these meetings.

In preparation for this ministerial meeting, the senior officials met in May, I understand.

From available information, as expected, the opening remarks by the secretary general, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, and the chair, minister Kamina Johnson Smith, focused on the challenging times confronting the region as it grapples with containing COVID-19, securing vaccines, debt and financial crises, food insecurity, natural disasters, and economic recovery.

It seems that the meeting had its issues in intra-regional goods trade, which continue to generate tensions among members. However, highlights, as I see them, are the unusual occurrence of the chair of the prime ministerial subcommittee on the CSME, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, addressing the meeting at the opening. This is an indication of the urgency which she attaches to the implementation of the CSME in the recovery process.

From the reports which I have seen online, concerned about the region’s severe economic decline, PM Mottley reminded the ministers of the importance of regional cooperation and integration in addressing the multiple crises and called for CARICOM organs, such as COTED, to demonstrate a greater sense of urgency and clarity of purpose.

AN UNEXPECTED GUEST?

An interesting and unexpected guest, for me as an outsider, was the WTO Director General (DG) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The chair, it is reported, announced at the opening session on June 1 that the ministers would have the opportunity the next day to have an exchange of views with the newly appointed WTO DG. The fullest report, which I have seen so far on this exchange, comes from the Twitter account of Minister Johnson Smith. She reports that the ministers and delegates were addressed by DG Okonjo-Iweala and they exchanged views on the preparations for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference, now to be held this year in Geneva, November 30 to December 3.

The representatives to the WTO in Geneva are now immersed in the preparations for the 12th Ministerial Conference. A prime objective for the DG is to have this ministerial achieve some tangible results in negotiations, such as an agreement on reducing fisheries subsidies, and, in reform, a compromise on the matter of development status and access to special and differential treatment provisions in WTO agreements as well as restoring the dispute settlement mechanism.

July, before the August summer break, will be the deadline for assessing what progress is being made towards having positive outcomes from the ministerial conference, which will strengthen the position of the WTO as the global trade regulator.

A May 10 Reuters news report informs that the DG plans to host a ministerial meeting on July 15 aimed at getting ministers to an agreement on fisheries subsidies. A draft text is on the table. The Reuters report further states that the DG has made fisheries subsidies a top priority and has urged WTO members to find common resolve and the spirit of compromise needed to bring these protracted negotiations to a successful conclusion. Reducing fisheries subsidies is a UN Sustainable Development Goal (Goal 14.6).

Minister Johnson Smith on Twitter further reports that COTED also engaged with the DG on vaccine inequity and the challenges faced by countries such as those in CARICOM. She mentions that CARICOM was looking forward to the appointment of a WTO envoy to vulnerable countries. We will have to see what would be the role of such an envoy.

DG Oknojo-Iweala has championed vaccine equity, seeing it as the moral and economic issue of our times. The WTO is also addressing the issue of a waiver from the intellectual property rights provisions of its TRIPS Agreement.

Minister Johnson Smith, in addition, gave a reminder that Jamaica is the current coordinator at the WTO of the members of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS). Thus, Jamaica will speak on behalf of the group at WTO ministerial meetings. The OACPS is scheduled to have a regular council meeting soon. This meeting, most likely, will prepare for the WTO July ministerial and, from my article last week on the OACPS/EU Post-Cotonou Agreement, will also be considering recent developments relating to signature of this agreement. I doubt that this meeting will be chaired by Samoa.

I am assuming that COTED will also be shortly convening a special session to determine the region’s positions for these meetings.

So, from the sparse information, some important issues emerged from COTED related to the CSME, the WTO and the OACPS which require our attention in the coming weeks. There needs to be better access to information on the COTED proceedings.

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