The review of the CSME will “take the process forward”, the Hon. Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica and Chair of the Community said at the conclusion of the 37th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held in Georgetown, Guyana last week. The review will be considered at the Intersessional Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in February 2017.
The public information campaign will be conducted in Member States and will target all levels of society, Prime Minister Skerrit said.
The CSME, and one of its integral regimes in particular, the free movement of nationals, were under scrutiny during the meeting, and Prime Minister Skerrit reiterated that the Heads of Government were fully committed to implementing all elements of the CSME regime since they remained convinced it was the only option to achieve sustainable growth and development.
Prime Minister Skerrit reported that Heads of Government held spirited discussions on free movement of nationals as they sought to address the concerns of citizens traversing the Region. He pointed out that even though the majority of nationals were moving without hindrance, there were cases where there was denial of entry at ports.
…this is a matter that has to be addressed urgently as we are aware of the negative views that surface when these instances occur. There is guidance from the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) as well as decisions the Conference (of Heads of Government) has made,” he said.
The CARICOM Secretariat has the responsibility for bringing together immigration officers, CARICOM Ambassadors and other stakeholders to address the issues stymieing free movement, the CARICOM Chair said.
The CSME, its potential and its challenges, were key points of reference at the opening ceremony of the Heads of Government Meeting 4 July, at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, Guyana. There was clear belief in and commitment to the programme, but an acknowledgement of the sticking points that were preventing development were also frankly assessed.
In his address at the opening ceremony of the Heads of Government Meeting on 4 July, Prime Minister Skerrit pointed to progress in some areas, but his disappointment with the failure to resolve some of the challenges was obvious.
- “I cannot understand why we have not completed the essential infrastructure to facilitate movement towards an effective free trade area, a meaningful Community or a Single Market and Economy,” he said at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown, Guyana. To a ripple of applause, he raised a number of questions:
Why has it proven so difficult to move people, goods and services cheaply and efficiently around the Caribbean?
Why is it cheaper to travel by air from Dominica to New York than it is to travel from Dominica to Guyana?
Why are Saint Lucian bananas cheaper in London than in Barbados?
Why is it cheaper to phone a relative in London from Grenada than it is to phone a friend in St. Vincent?
Why can’t visitors from England or elsewhere, be offered an attractive package of different tourism products that draws on the unique natural beauty of each CARICOM state?
Why can’t we use maritime transport to bridge the Caribbean Sea?
There is no doubt whatsoever that the essential infrastructure to facilitate economic cooperation and growth in CARICOM is incomplete,” he pointed out.
The Prime Minister advised that the most powerful case for Regional integration was the need for a common market or free trade area with relatively free movement of human and material capital and services; and which offered incentives for, and benefits from, working together.
He pointed to the agreement that bestowed on CARICOM nationals the right to an automatic six-month stay in another Member State.
The oversight of this right is in the safe hands of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The highly significant rulings of the CCJ in matters of free movement, clearly emphasises the value of this Court.
I believe that the confidence that we have shown in obtaining our political independence must now be extended to seizing our regional judicial sovereignty, as has been done by Guyana, Barbados, Belize and Dominica. I want to encourage our other Member States to take the necessary steps to accede to the appellate jurisdiction of the Court,” Prime Minister Skerrit said.
One of the new Prime Ministers at the Meeting, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness of Jamaica, reiterated his country’s commitment to the CSME which he was convinced could deliver economic and welfare gains.
Jamaica now provides a strong, transparent and predictable regulatory environment for those who wish to relocate there for work purposes. This is indeed an important pillar of the regional integration process. For many, including the man in the street, free movement represents a tangible way in which he can benefit from regional integration.
He told the opening ceremony that his countrymen and women were complaining about the denial of entry and treatment at some regional ports.
These must be urgently addressed in a meaningful way, otherwise the economic sense of CARICOM is increasingly questioned. We have begun to discuss the matter bilaterally and are encouraged by the level of understanding and responsiveness to our concerns. We believe that bilateral consultations supported by additional effort in the institutions of our Community can make the movement of labour equal with the movement of goods, extending the progress and benefit of the integration effort,” PM Holness said.
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. the Hon Keith Rowley, also new to the Conference, at the opening ceremony urged his colleagues to put the CSME “back on the active agenda” and that deliberations and decision-making should once again focus on that aspect of integration.
Speaking with the media during the Meeting, Prime Minster Rowley indicated he was very satisfied with the CSME discussions. Pressed on the matter of free movement, he acknowledged that challenges existed, but signalled that he would not allow complaints to be used to fracture the Community.