In welcoming you all to this Forty-Eighth Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), I wish to pay tribute to Sir Alister McIntyre who passed away last weekend.
Sir Alister was the second Secretary-General of CARICOM serving from 1974-77. He was also appointed by Heads of Government as the Chief Technical Adviser to the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery which was the forerunner to the current Office of Trade Negotiations. He was also appointed to the West Indian Commission.
I ask us to stand and observe a minute’s silence in honour of Sir Alister.
Honourable Ministers as we begin this meeting, I do so keenly aware of the responsibilities that have been placed upon this Council at this time. Foremost among them are issues crucial to the further development of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
In a little over two months our Heads of Government will be expecting to receive a report card that indicates that the mandates laid out last July in Montego Bay; in Port-of-Spain last December; and in Frigate Bay last February have been fulfilled. Priorities were identified by the Leaders and an Implementation Plan agreed upon.
Member States recommitted fully to the effective implementation of the CSME and agreed to the timelines - short, medium and long-term - set by the Plan. This Meeting presents an opportunity to review the actions taken by Member States to meet the timelines so that there could be an assessment of our progress.
Implementation cannot be a shifting target. We cannot come to meeting after meeting and agree to a Plan and not carry forward the work.
An urgency to complete the agreed measures and make the CSME a lived reality for our citizens, has been the hallmark of the recent discussions among our Heads of Government. As the Council tasked under the Revised Treaty to “promote the development and oversee the operation of the CSME” you have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that we accomplish the goals in that regard.
A fundamental element of the Single Market is the Trade in Goods. A review of the Common External Tariff (CET) and the Rules of Origin, the Community’s two major trade policy instruments, has been undertaken to assist in increasing the effectiveness of the Trade-in-Goods Regime. It aims to bring those instruments up to date, given the changes to our production structures that have taken place since they were first drafted.
Based on the review, which included inputs from country missions, recommendations are being put forward for your consideration on a way forward. Given that regime’s centrality to the integration movement, the Report before you and its recommendations require careful consideration.
Madame Chairperson, Honourable Ministers, another critical component of our economic integration is the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF), designed to provide assistance to Regions, countries and sectors disadvantaged by the operations of the CSME. As part of its mission to reduce the gaps in the development of Member States, a proposed Cohesion Policy has been put forward by the CDF which would support the CARICOM Strategic Goal of ‘Building Economic Resilience – Stabilisation and Sustainable Economic Growth and Development’.
One of the aims of the Cohesion Policy is to ensure that, in addition to supporting disadvantaged countries, the CDF should, by 2020, support targeted pilot projects in every Member State.
I urge Member States to complete long overdue national consultations, to enable the formulation and implementation of these interventions.
And of course there is also the need to replenish the Fund. The CDF is written into the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and we are obliged to ensure its operation.
Completing our internal market and economic arrangements will allow us to engage more effectively as a unit with our international trading partners. We have been active in that arena, with most notably ensuring that our trading relationship with the United Kingdom will remain essentially the same when that country leaves the European Union. To that end at the CARIFORUM level, we have concluded and signed the CARIFORUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement. The agreement is designed to ensure continued preferential access to UK markets and safeguards current and future trade flow between the countries of the Region and the UK.
I must recognise the critical role played by CARICOM’s Office of Trade Negotiations in this regard.
We are also engaged closer to home with consolidating trading relations with the United States and considering proposals to improve existing agreements with Costa Rica and Colombia.
Honourable Ministers, we live in somewhat challenging times. Our small economies face a number of challenges, which we have to confront head on. Nevertheless, we continue to demonstrate to the world that a group of small and vulnerable economies can make progress on the basis of joint commitments to human and economic development. Small size should not in itself be a hindrance to progress. What matters is the extent to which we continue to develop our human capital, foster innovation within our economies, and present ourselves to the outside world as a Region that is welcoming to international partnerships and investment.
It only remains for me to wish you a successful Meeting and to thank you, your officials, our regional personnel and my staff for the important work that you continue to put into strengthening the Caribbean Community.
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