NASSAU, Bahamas – The rising cost of living, external trade negotiations, and security issues are high on the agenda of Caribbean leaders as they meet in The Bahamas to discuss the way forward for the region.
The issues will be discussed at three high-level meetings of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the Council for Finance and Planning, and the Nineteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.
Items on the week’s agenda were discussed with the media during a press conference attended by Secretary General of CARICOM, Dr. Edwin Carrington; Ambassador Irwin Larocque, Assistant Secretary General, Trade and Economic Integration, CARICOM Secretariat; and Dr. Maurice Odle, Economic Advisor to the Secretary General, CARICOM Secretariat on Monday, March 3 at the Sheraton Cable Beach Resort.
The two main issues for COTED are the rising cost of living in the region, particularly as it relates to “food basket items” and how to provide relief by reducing import duties.
Other issues being discussed are the status of external trade negations including the establishment of an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Commission, on December 16, 2007.
“COTED ministers mandated that we need to take a review of the region’s approach we used in preparing for negotiations and to project for the future the lessons that we would have learnt of how to undertake our future negotiations,” Ambassador Larocque said. “We are not doing a review of the EPA itself, but more of the process of negotiations.”
The main issues for discussion at the COFAP level is the operation and financing of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, and various specific issues as it relates to economic development in the region.
“With respect to the Caricom Single Market and Economy, one aspect relates to our development of a strategic plan for the regional development,” Dr. Odle said. “We actually formulated a single development vision for the Caribbean region, which is an expression of the single economy process. We are also in the process of developing a strategic plan which is based on the results of the single development vision.”
Another issue on the agenda is the interconnectivity of the stock exchange system in the region, he said.
“Capital market integration is an important policy objective and we have been struggling for some years to develop a single stock exchange system,” Dr. Odle said.
There are two sub-regional stock exchanges – one involving Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago; and Jamaica and the other, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“The other stock exchanges of The Bahamas, Guyana, and Suriname would have to make a decision as to which grouping they would attach themselves to,” Dr. Odle said.
Talks will also centre on the development of a Tourism Investment Fund, and a Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility.
At the end of COTED and COFAP meetings, a document will be presented at the Nineteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community for discussion on March 7 and 8.