March 16, 2009

CCJ... Burning issues for CARICOM leaders

EPA, world financial woes, CCJ... Burning issues for CARICOM leaders
Source: The Reporter
Published March 13, 2007

Belize this week played host to the Twentieth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held at the Radisson Hotel on Thursday and Friday.

The meeting zeroed in on a number of issues affecting not only Caribbean nations, but also the Central American region.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is the current Chairman of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, in his remarks at the opening on Thursday, set the stage for what the two days of discussions were all about.

He told the gathering, which included heads of states from 11 Caribbean countries, as well as a representative from Nicaragua, that key issues such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union, the global economic and financial crisis and the Caribbean Court of Justice are issues the region must renew its energy on so as to reaffirm the purpose CARICOM citizens both demand and deserve.

“The holding of this meeting here, at the western end of the CARICOM arc, is of special significance,” Barrow told the gathering.

“At a time when thinking big is a necessity, it helps to accentuate the scope and reach of our Community. It helps to underscore the ambition of our grand enterprise. But it also helps to dramatize the problems inherent in taming what can sometimes seem like this wild beast of Caribbean integration.”

The signing of the EPA, says the Prime Minister, “has been, to put it mildly, controversial. The implementation is already throwing up its own obstacles, Mr. Barrow noted.

Barrow described many aspects of the EPA, as time-bound, revisionism and second guessing over-rated commodities.

As to the global financial crisis, Barrow said, the need is for Caribbean leaders to be remindful of what integration was designed to achieve.

He referred to the Preamble to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which states the need to promote in the CARICOM Community the highest level of efficiency in the production of goods and services “especially with a view to liberalize foreign exchange earnings on the basis of international competitiveness, attaining food security, achieving structural diversification and improving the standard of living of peoples.....”.

The global financial crisis, says Barrow, has been “hovering above us like an incubus. To posit that it should act as a spur rather than a deterrent to consolidation of our CARICOM destiny is one thing. To actually manage our processes in such a way as to make the word flesh, is quite another,” he said.

As to the creation of a single integrated economic space, Barrow says this requires not only common approaches and common policies, but common bureaucratic and administrative procedures.

“And, inevitably, in the process of adjustment to increasing global competitiveness of the whole, the relative importance and performance of individual member states will change.”

The Caribbean Court of Justice, which has been a burning topic across the Caribbean, with only Guyana and Barbados so far opting to use it as their last court of appeal, is another matter Barrow says, he felt compelled to raise in his opening remarks.

“It represents a key element of the Community’s governance process, but so far only two countries use it as their final court of appeal in civil and criminal matters.

The significance of our apparent unwillingness to replace the Privy Council with our own first class jurists, is not lost on our population. It can’t help but contribute to cynicism about the seriousness of our commitment to Caribbean identity.

“I can hardly say this just to be a scold, since Belize is, in this matter, a guilty party. I introduce the subject, rather, in order to employ precept and example.” CARICOM Secretary General, His Excellency Edwin Carrington, who also spoke at Thursday’s opening ceremony, fleshed out the gravity of the global financial crisis, which he says is also affecting Caricom countries.

“There is no exaggeration to say that the meeting is being held at a time when the world “is in its greatest crisis in most of our lifetimes.”

The tourism industry is one of the hardest hit, noted Carrington. Remittances are also fast falling to pittance, he said.

“The energy sector, including its downstream industries, has also been adversely affected as both demand and prices have plummeted. It is difficult to imagine that just seven months ago, analysts were predicting oil prices to soar to U.S. $200 a barrel. Today they stand just over U.S. $40 a barrel.”Carrington will lead a team of CARICOM official to San Ignacio on Saturday March 14, to meet with residents from the area to discus the Caribbean Community.

The event starts at 4 in the afternoon at the Sacred Heart College in San Ignacio.

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