SOUTH FLORIDA – The Guyanese American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) sincerely thanks the panel and all participants in its Virtual Town Hall Meeting held on Saturday, April 18, 2020 which discussed “Effectively addressing COVID-19 in a single domestic CARICOM space“.
GACC welcomes the menu of measures being implemented by the CARICOM heads-of-government to address this crisis as outlined at the town hall meeting by CARICOM’s Assistant Secretary General, Dr. Douglas Slater.
These measures include inter alia, the collective procurement of critical supplies such as PPE’s and medicines as well as plans for dealing effectively with the current situation should it be further aggravated during what is predicted to be a very active hurricane season this year.
GACC also welcomes the consensus that a series of protocols as outlined by Guyana’s former health minister Dr. Richard Van West Charles, should be considered before current measures in place are relaxed.
These include careful analysis of data arising out of an aggressive program of testing, tracing and treatment.
GACC also endorses Dr. Van West Charles’ advice that CARICOM citizens need to stringently observe practices such as hand washing and proper hygiene and that governments need to place increased attention to sanitation, water supply and social housing after a return to “normalcy”.
GACC supports the consensus of the panelists at the town hall meeting that the US blocking of critical supplies destined for the Caribbean is unconscionable, especially in cases where these supplies were merely transiting the US.
In cases where supplies must be acquired from the US, we firmly believe that Caribbean diplomatic missions in the US should be advised of the need for these purchases and make the necessary “overtures” to ensure that these are not blocked or in any way delayed.
We welcome the efforts of CARICOM to seek to have WHO/PAHO donations come directly from Europe or via Panama.
Job Loss Across CARICOM Region
A critical consequence of COVID-19 has been the loss of thousands of jobs across the CARICOM region. We are encouraged by the report from Dr. Slater that CARICOM heads-of-government are addressing this issue.
We urge that Caribbean governments and the private sector consider a number of recommendations made by WIRSPA’s chairman, Komal Samaroo and tourism and hospitality expert Eldon Bremner about assistance to displaced workers.
These include tax breaks and other fiscal incentives to small and medium size enterprises so that workers can be retained during this period which can be used to retrain employees or train them in new skills which are needed.
In the case of the regional tourism sector we believe that the arguments advanced by Mr. Bremner for a revisit of the “all inclusive” hotel product and promotion of a more “community based” product as well as consideration of a contributory emergency fund requiring two per cent of gross revenue from industry operators, should engage the attention of governments.
Healthcare Sector / Food Security
We also urge that specific attention be paid to the health and social welfare of children and women as emphasized by TV anchor Laverne McGee.
Discussion on food security accounted for a significant segment of the discussion at the town hall meeting.
We endorse the recommendation by Mr. Samaroo that as a matter of urgency, regional government and private sector officials begin discussions on working together to expand agricultural and value-added production so as to reduce the dependence on imported food and expenditure of valuable foreign exchange.
We support the idea advanced by Dr. Slater and Mr. Samaroo that regional manufactures begin to look at producing some of the “much needed” medical supplies such as masks, swabs, and ventilators and that special attention including incentives be provided to encourage this production.
The US-based GACC stands ready to assist in identifying possible joint venture partners that might have interest in investing in manufacturing these products in the CARICOM region.
The town hall meeting also heard from Mr. Leveau, the Consul General of Trinidad and Tobago in New York who provided an update on the impact of the current situation on the Caribbean Diaspora.
He informed that the Caribbean Consular Corps has been meeting virtually and seeking to ensure, under the circumstances, that nationals receive any assistance they might need.