Photo: CARICOM. The CARICOM flag is facing headwinds in the Covid-19 economy.

A joint communique has been issued at the conclusion of the Forty-First Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, via Videoconference, 29 October 2020

Countries represented in the videoconference by heads of state were:

  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
  • Antigua and Barbuda,
  • The Bahamas,
  • Barbados,
  • Dominica,
  • Grenada,
  • Guyana,
  • Haiti,
  • Jamaica,
  • Montserrat,
  • St. Kitts and Nevis,
  • Saint Lucia,
  • Suriname,
  • Trinidad and Tobago,
  • Belize,
  • Bermuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands as associate members.

On Covid-19 and its impact, the heads of government recognized that in the absence of a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to be a grave public health, security and economic threat, and the regional approach must continue to be undertaken to manage these ongoing threats.

In that regard, they further recognized that re-opening and recovery require a careful balance between reducing restrictive measures and ensuring adequate actions to reduce importation and spread of new cases.

Heads of Government welcomed the COVAX Facility as an initiative to secure access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that will afford countries the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines.

They also welcomed the fact that six CARICOM Member States have been identified for Advance Market Commitment – a financing instrument to support the procurement of vaccines for low and middle-income economies.

They noted that the remaining Member States have committed to the COVAX Facility as self-financing countries, but were concerned at the limited criteria used to determine how countries accessed financing.

Heads of Government expressed deep concern that despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, the per capita income criterion was still being used to determine how countries accessed financing from the COVAX Facility.

Heads of Government expressed appreciation to the European Union, CARPHA and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) for their support in facilitating the down payment for self-financing Member States.

They mandated CARPHA to explore, in collaboration with the CARICOM Secretariat and PAHO, other financing options to cover additional costs for the vaccines.

Heads of Government mandated CARPHA and the Chief Medical Officers of Member States to meet to refine the common technical standards for the CARICOM Travel Bubble and the entry of external arrivals, and report to the Secretariat within 48 hours.

On economic recovery, the heads of government agreed to the concept of a Caribbean Economic Recovery and Transformation (CERT) Plan, which has been devised by a regional team of experts under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.

Heads of Government called for a new Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) as well as the refinancing of COVID-related debt into long-term low interest instruments.  They also urged the early development and use of a Universal Vulnerability Index to determine countries’ eligibility for development assistance.

On rebuilding the tourism industry, the leaders welcomed a proposal by the Government of Saint Lucia for the preparation of a Joint Tourism Policy.

They agreed to a Working Group to formulate the policy and report to the Conference by December 31, 2020.

Given the urgency of the matter, Heads of Government also agreed that a Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee (PMSC) on Tourism be established to provide political oversight for the preparation of the Joint Tourism Policy and other related issues.

The Prime Minister of The Bahamas, as the Lead Head of Government for Tourism in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, will preside over the Sub-Committee which will include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica and Saint Lucia.

On the contentious topic of blacklisting of “tax havens” by the European Union, the heads of government made fiercely worded claims that “the EU has stepped up the economic assault on small states despite the prevailing global pandemic which has forced the protracted shutdown of economic activity amidst predictions of a slower recovery than envisaged.”

They condemned in the strongest possible terms the continued blacklisting by the European Union of Members of the Community through unilaterally and arbitrarily determined standards, and in the absence of any meaningful prior consultation with the affected Members.

Heads of Government noted that the European Union has steadfastly ignored that capacity constraints and other challenges at the national level continue to impact the speed and depth of reforms in tax administrations, and financial intelligence units in Member States.

Heads of Government stated that this disproportionate treatment of CARICOM States is a breach of the rights of CARICOM citizens, and called upon the European Council and European Commission to desist from this egregious practice.

There is no report, however, of the heads of government putting forward any alternative proposals to deal with issues of money-laundering and other piratical activities by foreign companies registered in their jurisdictions.

Border disputes between Guyana and Venezuela and between Belize and Guatemala were also addressed.

In the much-awaited ” exchange of views with the UN Secretary-General”, it was reported that the heads of government “held an extensive and fruitful exchange of views on issues related to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Region’s economy, which has exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, in particular, those related to high levels of debt and access to concessional financing.”

It is not known who said what on this topic, but Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley has been vocal on the same subject in recent weeks, and it is likely that she participated in that discussion regarding cheap international loans to the governments of small nations that have been virtually bankrupted due to assisting populations affected by Covid-19, and loss of revenues associated with tourism taxes.

The UN Secretary-General did state that he affirmed the United Nations’ support for a multi-dimensional vulnerability index to help in determining access to concessional financing, so that small nations ability to pay would be based on the current situation and not on past economic performance in better times.