Sat | Jul 24, 2021

Elizabeth Morgan | What was the outcome of the 42nd CARICOM heads conference?

Published:Wednesday | July 21, 2021 | 12:09 AM
Artists perform at the National Pantheon Museum during a memorial service for late Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti yesterday. Moise was assassinated on July 7 at his home.
Artists perform at the National Pantheon Museum during a memorial service for late Haitian President Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti yesterday. Moise was assassinated on July 7 at his home.
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The CARICOM Heads of Government held their 42nd session virtually, July 5-6, but its outcome was overshadowed by the crisis in Haiti following the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse.

Given the economic fragility of the CARICOM member states, I think that we should look at the outcome of this heads conference. As recorded, the economic fallout in 2020 was severe and, although there is forecast of growth in the region, this is recouping loss. The Caribbean is not expected to return to its 2019 growth level until 2023. Recall that as a region, our economic outlook was not so rosy leading up to 2020. As we know, COVID-19 has exposed our deficiencies.

The key issues on the heads agenda included COVID-19; CSME implementation; CARICOM development fund; tourism; food production and food security; single ICT space; tax transparency, blacklisting and de-risking; engagement with the private sector, labour and civil society; crime and security; and the revival of regional air transport.

I am highlighting two items, COVID-19 and CSME. COVID-19, of course, was a critical discussion topic as there is no CARICOM country which has come to grips with containing it. They are all struggling to get their populations vaccinated, either due to difficulty in accessing supplies, through to vaccine scepticism, or persons continuing to ignore the protocols and engaging in risky behaviour. They also have to take into account the various COVID variants emerging and spreading.

While thanking donor countries for their assistance in financing the purchase of, and for donating, vaccines, the heads emphasised the importance of equity in accessing vaccines and of continuing to pursue this with the WHO/PAHO, Third States and others. CARICOM members, working with CARPHA, are still aiming to achieve 80 per cent herd immunity by the end of this year. In this regard, employers and employees are urged to create safe working environments, citizens encouraged to get vaccinated, and members to develop effective communication programmes to disseminate the information. Containing COVID in CARICOM and around the world will determine the pace at which economies will recover. Heads have been saying that they have recognised that the CSME must be the vehicle of regional recovery.

Thus, they have again committed to CSME implementation by adopting “the St John’s Declaration on Rededication to CSME Implementation”. Other issues on the heads agenda are related to the CSME implementation and I believe that we should all read this statement which states as follows:

REDEDICATION STATEMENT

“We, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), meeting virtually on 5-6 July, 2021 for the Forty-Second Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM;

Recognising that the commitments made in our 2018 ST ANN’S DECLARATION ON THE CARICOM SINGLE MARKET AND ECONOMY (CSME) to, inter alia, take action at the national level to advance the regional integration agenda, have for the most part not materialised;

Reiterating our conviction that CARICOM integration and particularly the CSME continue to be important for the growth and development of the Member States of CARICOM especially in the face of the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has absorbed the focus of member states over the past fifteen months and more;

Conscious of the vastly different economic environment that is currently prevailing;

DECLARE:

We have all individually and collectively recommitted to take all action necessary to ensure timely and effective implementation of the CSME, especially in light of the challenges of the current demanding environment.

We have agreed that achieving full implementation of the CSME would require immediate specific action by the Organs and Bodies of the Community, Cabinets and Ministries of Member States, stakeholders (particularly the private sector) and the CARICOM Secretariat.

We have agreed to have regular inclusion of the CSME as an item on the Agenda of Cabinet meetings.

We have also agreed to give specific and focused attention to ensuring that our governance and accountability mechanisms and structures at the national and regional levels are made sufficiently robust for effecting the required CSME implementation, including a greater oversight role for our ambassadors to CARICOM.

We have endorsed the COTED decision to convene a special session on CSME implementation before its next regular meeting in November 2021 to agree on other specific actions proposed for immediate implementation by the various stakeholders towards ensuring full implementation of CSME provisions and to approve an overall Action Plan for CSME implementation.”

Note, in summary, that the CARICOM heads have committed to:

1. Take all action necessary to ensure timely and effective implementation of the CSME;

2. Taking immediate and specific action through national and regional bodies;

3. Include CSME on the agenda of national Cabinets;

4. To ensuring that national and regional governance and accountability mechanisms and structures can address CSME implementation; and

5. A greater oversight role for the CARICOM Committee of Ambassadors.

Note also that a special meeting of the Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on the CSME is to be convened in November.

Indeed, we have heard and read commitments from our heads before. We need now to take specific note of this rededication and to evaluate their performance on its implementation. As I pointed out before, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas requires that national and regional trade and economic policies be coordinated.

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