Regional leaders begin two days of summit talks
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders begin their annual summit in earnest on Monday, coinciding with CARICOM Day marking the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas that gave birth to the regional integration movement, hoping for fresh perspectives on deepening the 15-member grouping.
“As we prepare for our deliberations, for the next two days, let us remain mindful of the importance of solidarity and the spirit of a community when we address the issues on our agenda,” the incoming CARICOM chairman and host, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, told the four hour-opening ceremony on Sunday night.
“After all, we should be united in our purpose to advance sustainable development for our region’s countries, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”
CARICOM Secretary General Dr Carla Barnett said the summit was taking place at a time of severe global crisis in three vital areas, namely, food, energy and finance.
“Addressing solutions for our region requires collective intellect and will to act together. This task is not beyond us, as we have proven time and again. Let us, therefore, once more correct the breach and make a difference in the lives of our people,” she added.
But the newly elected Grenada prime minister, Dickon Mitchell, one of three recently elected leaders to address Sunday’s ceremonial opening, urged that CARICOM should do more so as not to be “viewed as a place where we talk, and talk, and talk, and then we talk some more”.
His Bahamian counterpart, Phillip Davis, reminded the regional leaders that “the scaffolding for our regional architecture, the scaffolding for our future, is in our hands,” while the other newly elected leader, Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre of St Lucia, said, “We must not only talk unity. We must demonstrate to our people that we are together, confronted by similar problems that can be resolved only by a united CARICOM”.
CARICOM is going to place much emphasis during this summit on the issue of implementation, a situation that has dogged the regional integration movement since its inception, and as Santohki asked, “Have we as a region advanced functional cooperation, and increased coordination of policies to benefit our people?
“Were we able to effectively facilitate intra-regional trade, and work towards removing barriers? Did we implement policies to facilitate the free movement of persons and goods? Has CARICOM served the development goals of its members?
“Indeed, for one of the oldest integration bodies in the Western Hemisphere, we in the community need to undertake this assessment. In true Caribbean fashion, we can not only reflect, but also have to celebrate our many achievements,” he added.
The summit is taking place at a time when the region is emerging from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic that crippled regional economies, shut down borders, and significantly impacted health services.
Prior to the pandemic, all forecasts were that an economic recovery was on the horizon. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean had predicted 7.8 per cent growth for the Caribbean. Travel was resuming, our tourism industries were reopening; our citizens were returning to work and to school.