Regional leaders end “very successful” summit

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders ended their three-day summit here on Thursday night describing the deliberations as “very successful” and announcing the approval of a plan to implement outstanding measures with respect to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

In addition, the regional leaders have issued a “unified” statement on the situation in Venezuela urging “all parties to commit to engage in renewed dialogue and negotiations leading to a comprehensive political agreement with established timetables, concrete actions and guarantees to ensure its implementation for the wellbeing of the nation”.

Host Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell, who is also the CARICOM chairman, told reporters at the end of summit news conference that the regional leaders “could not sit around and not deal with it” a reference to the situation in Venezuela where opposition forces are seeking to overthrow the government of President Nicolas Maduro by staging street protests resulting in the deaths of more than 60 people.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, sought to downplay any suggestion that his country was not forced into accepting the statement of non-interference in the affairs of Venezuela, telling reporters “the statement is a unified one.

“It defines the boundaries as to how far CARICOM wants to be involved” in Venezuela, he said, adding “we want to see a resolution, we want to see peace in the Bolivarian Republic”.

Holness said that all the countries of the Caribbean have endured years of democratic rule and “any statement would have to reflect our principles”.

Mitchell told reporters that the leaders had “approved an implementation plan for the outstanding measures with respect to the CSME after identifying the roadblocks which have hindered progress”.

He did not elaborate, but Holness said that the CSME “is the true expression of Caribbean integration”.

The CSME, approved by regional leaders as part of the Grand Anse Declaration of 1989, allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and people across the region, but it has been hampered by bureaucratic red tape.

Guyana’s President David Granger, who was also present at the news conference, said “we have made measurable progress” with regards to the CSME initiative.

Mitchell said that the summit also examined ways to address the lag in economic growth and had some ideas presented by officials of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the World Bank.

“There are avenues opening up for us as small states in various funds at the multilateral level and we are determined to do the work to be able to access them,” he said.

He said that tourism is a major factor in the thrust towards engendering growth and in receiving a presentation on the sector, the leaders recognised the opportunities which the recommended strategies to address both immediate and long-term initiatives aimed at stimulating that growth presented.

“We supported in principle the creation of an independent public-private sector governing body to guide the development and management of a sustained regional tourism marketing and public relations effort.

“To build on our tourism effort, air transportation has to be improved,” Mitchell said, adding that the leaders agreed to implement measures to facilitate ease of travel in the region and mandated the government-owned airlines to continue to work towards increasing their level of collaboration and coordination.

“We agreed that the establishment of a single airspace should be pursued and mandated the Secretariat to work with CASSOS (Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System) and relevant agencies to define a roadmap and identify the necessary resources for its implementation.”

Mitchell said that the leaders had further agreed to address the issue of the multi-layered regime of aviation taxes within the context of an appropriate mechanism for the financing of civil aviation related activities and requested the CDB to finance a study on the impact of aviation taxes on the economies of member states.

The CARICOM chairman said that the leaders have also approved a Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy along with an Action Plan which was designed by a Commission, established by CARICOM in 2015.

“the strategy would enable our people as they progress from their earliest years to senior adulthood to reach their full potential in their personal and working lives, contributing to their families, communities and national and regional development.

“At the heart of this strategy is the prioritisation of the construction, by 2030, of a globally competitive, innovative, and seamlessly integrated education system to drive inclusive sustainable development in the region.  “

Mitchell said that the strategy would support and guide critical transformations in HRD sectors regionally, and align them more closely with the expectations, needs, and imperatives of development for the 21st century.

Caribbean leaders also commented on the decade’s old Port of Spain Declaration “Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)” which was issued following the seminal CARICOM Heads of Government NCD Summit in 2007.

“We are aware that we have fallen behind in the battle against these deadly diseases and also in fulfilling the goals of that Declaration. One of the most alarming signs is the high incidence of childhood obesity, a major risk factor for NCDs.

“We have issued a statement re-iterating our determination to curb the ravages of these diseases through legislation and intensified public education activities. We simply cannot afford to continue the lifestyle and food consumption patterns which are literally killing us.”

He said the meeting also approved the work plan for the CARICOM Single ICT space, recalling that in his speech at the opening ceremony “we are conscious that the regions youth and Diaspora are paying keen attention to this area and the region’s approach to ICT as an input to the future”.

He said another significant outcome of the meeting was the endorsement for the approval of the Regional Plan for Statistics;

“The region strategy for development of statistics will embody a huge basket of activities and will respond to the statistical needs of the CARICOM development agenda and support our research and policy imperatives.”.

He said that the Region Strategy for Statistics will be funded by Paris21 and to date the assessment has been completed

Mitchell said that there is general agreement “that we will need to engage aggressively and strategically with our development partners for support on a range of issues so as to ‘future proof’ our region”.

The chairman said this will be coordinated and spearheaded by the CARICOM Secretariat. (CMC)

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