BASSETERRE, ST. Kitts – St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas is leading a seven-member delegation to the 19th Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in The Bahamas.
The other members of the delegation are Premier of Nevis, Hon. Joseph Parry; St. Kitts and Nevis Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris; Chief Secretary, Mr. Joseph Edmeade; Financial Secretary, Mrs. Janet Harris; St. Kits and Nevis Ambassador to CARICOM, the OECS and the ACS, His Excellency Mr. Wendell Lawrence and Cabinet Secretary in Nevis, Mr. Ashley Farrerll.
According to top regional journalist, Ricky Singh, three major issues of current concerns to the people of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will dominate the CARICOM Heads of Government scheduled from Friday to Sunday.
They are the rising cost-of-living; serious crime and violence; and the new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) initialed last December 16 between negotiators of the European Commission (EC) and the Cariforum group of countries (Caricom plus the Dominican Republic).
He said this week’s meeting could well prove to be one of the most tense, if not acrimonious summit meetings of CARICOM leaders with a trio of new Prime Ministers making their debut at such an event as a consequence of changed governments since last July’s annual Heads of Government Conference in Barbados. The new leaders for this Inter-Sessional will be the Prime Ministers of Belize (Deane Barrow), Barbados (David Thompson) and Jamaica (Bruce Golding), although the latter had participated in a special meeting of Community leaders in Guyana last December 8 that had the escalating cost-of-living as the principal agenda issue.
“With no signs of a pause in the epidemic of serious crime and violence-with horrific tolls in countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, and increasingly worrying statistics also in popular tourist resorts as Barbados and the Bahamas, efforts to forge action plans are expected to replace customary passionate rhetoric to deal with the threats being posed by networks of armed criminal gangs also associated with gun-running and narco-trafficking,” said Singh.
He added that out of the deliberations on proposed new initiatives could well emerge a mandate to develop a Regional Rapid Response Anti-Crime Force, or similar mechanism.
It is felt that this could be linked to a restructured and expanded Regional Security System (RSS) or, be established as a unit functioning independently within CARICOM’s overall strategy on crime and security.
The idea of a regional rapid response anti-crime unit was originally raised seven years ago by Antigua and Barbuda’s former Prime Minister Lester Bird.
But just over week ago, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, disclosed his own keen interest in the creation of a Caricom-linked mechanism to speedily respond, on invitation, to any challenging crime/security situation, anywhere in the Community.
Cost of living issue promise to spark some lively discussion as well as it will be focused on necessary adjustments to CARICOM’s Common External Tariff (CET) for either reducing or suspending tariffs on a range of imported commodities that are widely consumed but which the region neither significantly produces nor has close substitutes-wheat, flour, cheese, potatoes, split peas and oil.
St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas (l) and Premier of Nevis, Hon. Joseph Parry.
Photo by Erasmus Williams
At their special meeting in Georgetown last December, Caricom leaders discussed the escalating rise in food prices and cost of living generally within the wider context of poverty reduction and the challenges facing the region from global developments over which they have no control, such as the price for oil, currently selling at over US$100 a barrel.
All governments were requested to forward their proposals for adjustments to the CET ahead of this week’s series of meetings, also in Nassau, of CARICOM’s Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP), which were attended by St. Kitts and Nevis Foreign Minister Harris and Financial Secretary Harris, so that informed recommendations could be forwarded for consideration and decision by the Community’s leaders.
“If they succeed in avoiding tempers from flaring when discussing the burning cost of living issue, then the big challenge will come in deliberations over the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) initialed on December 16, 2007 by negotiators of Cariforum and the European Commission,” said Singh.
There have been the sharp differences that publicly erupted prior to and since the initialing of the EPA, involving negotiators of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM), some governments and leading economists and civil society organizations.
Now, a new dimension to verbal conflicts has been introduced with the recent submission of a report to COTED by a four- member ‘reflections group’ that itself is not free of some contradictory findings and surprising recommendations, particularly in relation to dealing with perceived existing tense relations between the CRNM and the Caricom Secretariat.
The report, submitted by the Jamaica-based “Trevor Hamilton and Associates-International Managements Consultants,” reflects lack of “clearly defined roles and responsibilities” by the Caricom and OECS Secretariats in the EPA negotiating processes and has also made the significant observation that the initialed EPA “seems to favor integration of Cariforum, rather than Caricom, even as the latter is in the process of deepening its integration with the CSME (single market and economy)….”
The official text of the initialed EPA is yet to be officially approved for bilateral signing arrangements between the Cariforum member countries and the European Union.
The signing was originally promised for early April but a request for postponement could come from the Nassau meeting of Caricom leaders.