Photo: CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, right, makes remarks at the opening of the 45th Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) at the Marriott Hotel, Georgetown, Guyana. At left is Ambassador Gail Mathurin, director-general, CARICOM Office of Trade Negotiations, an Corlita Babb- Schaefer, CARICOM general counsel.
CARICOM secretary-general opens trade meeting in Guyana
The following are remarks by the Secretary-General Caribbean Community Ambassador Irwin LaRocque at the Nov. 9 opening ceremony of the 45th meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) in Georgetown, Guyana:
It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all to this 45th regular meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
A special welcome to the Honourable Dr. Pierre Marie Du Meny, minister of commerce and industry of Haiti, who is attending his first meeting of the COTED. Honourable minister, this council looks forward to your contribution to its discussions over the next two days.
The main responsibility of this body is to ensure that the trade and economic policies of the community are supportive of growth and development in our member states.
The devastating climatic events of last September have put at risk our efforts to stimulate that growth and development. Agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, housing, infrastructure, energy, and communications have been adversely affected in varying degrees in the countries battered by hurricanes Irma and Maria. The economic impact is not limited to the affected countries alone but extend to the wider Caribbean given our level of integration.
Even as relief efforts continue, the task of reconstruction and rebuilding must get underway. This is critical, not only to re-energising the economy, but also to provide for the social needs of the people as they recover from a traumatic experience.
Our community and its institutions, led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), have responded impressively to the situation. The governments and people of our member states have stood up to be counted in the hour of need of our stricken members and associate members. And now we will all have to play a part in rebuilding the countries in a manner that enhances resilience to adapt to and to mitigate the effects of climate change. We must seize this opportunity and help the countries build back better and become the first climate-resilient nations in the world.
We cannot do this alone. To further this aim, CARICOM, with the support of the United Nations, will convene a High-Level Pledging Conference on Nov. 21 at UN Headquarters in New York. Through this event, we are seeking the co-operation of our international development partners, the private sector and private foundations to help rebuild the countries ravaged by these hurricanes.
A broader objective is to assist the entire community to improve its resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change. We must prepare for the next catastrophic hurricane, flood or drought since climate change is the new normal. It is clear that we will have to strengthen our capacity to plan for that new normal.
Honourable ministers, as we grapple with the seriousness of our vulnerability to catastrophic events, this council will be called upon to lead in promoting sound policies that will help to strengthen our economic resilience.
Our strategic plan places great emphasis on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as our chosen vehicle in that regard. And correctly so. However, given the reality of the new normal, brought on by the effects of climate change, we need to ask ourselves: is it sufficient? We need to look at our economic sectors and consider ways of making them more resilient to these external shocks.
This does not negate the critical importance of the CSME; far from it. The regimes of free trade in goods and services, movement of skills and capital, and the right of establishment remain vital to our economic well-being. And we have done fairly well in those areas.
But there are issues on our agenda such as compliance with the provisions of the revised treaty and the decisions of the community’s organs [that] require urgent attention. It has been determined that our treaty and the binding decisions of our organs form a body of community law. It is therefore necessary that the COTED ensures compliance.
There are some matters on our agenda with respect to trade in goods that have remained unresolved for a considerable amount of time. These relate mainly to the trade in agricultural products.
Our treaty, for example, calls for the development of an effective regime for sanitary and phytosanitary measures. The main objective is to ensure that these measures are not illegitimately used to restrict trade within the community. While there are some elements of that regime in place, I believe that the time has come for us to more clearly articulate the rules governing that trade. This would remove all doubt about the actions that are permissible and those that are not.
We must also seek to remove the areas of uncertainty in respect of the free movement of skills regime. We have to recognize that the free movement of skills has been embraced by the people as a benefit of integration. Many have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by this regime. And again, it is my understanding that this regime has worked fairly well.
But there are challenges. Some challenges have been experienced by persons seeking to exercise their rights under the regime in accordance with decisions of the COTED and the Conference of Heads of Government. And there have been challenges experienced by member states seeking to confer those rights. The council must move quickly to resolve those issues.
Your packed agenda also includes matters relating to the development of a public procurement protocol. This matter has also been on the agenda for quite some time. However, I am pleased to note a step forward with the launch of the Community Public Procurement Notice Board.
This should help both the private sector and governments by facilitating the exchange of information on procurement opportunities and contract awards. Suppliers, including small and medium enterprises, can access opportunities in their national space and across the region.
On the international front, you will also be discussing matters relating to our external trade, in particular the decision last year by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Trade between the region and the UK is currently governed by the provisions of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. Both parties have begun preliminary consultations toward ensuring that there will be no interruption in our trade post-Brexit. The council will examine proposals for advancing the technical work in that regard.
As small economies, we have a vested interest in maintaining the integrity of an open international trading system. However, at this time there is increasing uncertainty about the future of a multi-lateral trading system which places emphasis on development issues. Therefore, our participation in the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which will take place in December of this year, will be crucial. This gives us an opportunity to reaffirm the importance we place on a trading system that recognises the needs of small vulnerable economies, particularly at this time given the intensifying effects of climate change.
As we pursue our external trade agenda, it will be my pleasure, immediately following this opening ceremony, to sign a protocol to expand preferential access to both parties under the CARICOM-Cuba Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement. This marks a further deepening of the trade and economic relations between CARICOM and Cuba. It provides further opportunities for our private sector, some of whose representatives have been actively engaged with our Cuban partners.
In closing, honourable ministers, I wish to again emphasize the important role you play in fostering the region’s economic development. In this era of the new normal, forced upon us by the effects of climate change, all our councils have the responsibility to ensure that our community can respond fully and effectively to the challenges posed.
Our affairs must be conducted in the context of building a resilient community in all facets – economically, socially, environmentally and technologically. In this way, we advance the quality of life of our people and create a path to sustainable development.
I thank you and wish you success in your deliberations.