…says in the face of negative perception that CARICOM is ‘a waste of time’
While the objective of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has not yet been fully realised, the 15-member grouping, which seeks to promote economic integration and cooperation among its members, is not a waste of time.
This is according to CARICOM Secretary General (SG), Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, who met with regional journalists on Monday, ahead of the 38th regular meeting of CariCom Heads of Government, which opens today in Grenada.
LaRocque sought to dispel Caribbean citizens’ perception that CARICOM has not been as effective as was initially intended at its formation in 1973.
“Imagine, if there were no CARICOM, the amount of things we take for granted would not be there,” LaRocque told reporters.
He posited that the issue of CARICOM, and the thinking by Caribbean people that it is a waste of time, is due to the lack of information provided by individual Member States to their citizens.
“(What is needed) is constant communication with the people of the Caribbean (on) what we are planning and doing going forward,” he opined. He said member states need to inform their citizens on how they are benefiting from CARICOM.
The SG noted, for example, the assistance rendered by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), particularly in the area of testing for the many mosquito-borne diseases out of Guyana, including Zika and Chikungunya. He said it is because of CARICOM that such opportunities and assistance exist.
The 38th regular meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government opens at 17:00 hrs today at the Grenada Trade Centre.
Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell has assumed the six-month rotating Chairmanship of CARICOM, on June 1, succeeding President David Granger of Guyana; and will chair the meeting, which will come to an end on July 6.
And asked about the successes of policy implementation by member states and CARICOM in general, the Secretary General admitted that he would like to see better implementation of the decisions that are taken. However, he noted that given the large scope of issues being dealt with by the organisation, things are not too that bad.
“There are always a few things (on which) I think we can do better, but I think we are doing not too badly. We often tend to think about what is not being done, as against what is being done,” he told journalists. He said CARICOM, at the last meeting, took stock of the issue regarding the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), particularly since some countries are still lagging behind in some areas. He said there is a roadmap for such countries.
“We are in discussion with them about timeframes that need to be adhered to,” he said. “I think when you think about the number of areas that we are dealing with, we are not doing too badly; but there is always room for improvement,” LaRocque asserted.
Meanwhile, as the two-day confab gets underway, LaRocque said Heads of Government will be looking to further implement the various elements of the CSME, explore other areas of the economy, hold discussions on access to financing for sustainable development, and discuss tourism.
On the agenda is also the Multilateral Air Service Agreement, which he said he hopes could get policy sign-off by Heads. That policy, the SG said, would allow for easy travel within the region by CARICOM-owned airlines.
Another major issue to be brainstormed by the regional heads is Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). NCDs LaRocque noted, remain a major issue within the health sector.
“We are seeing obesity becoming a problem, especially among young people. And some estimates have shown that NCDs are costing the region anywhere between 2 and 5 per cent of GDP.
While it has an impact on an individual’s health, it also has an impact on the economy and the ability to provide support to those suffering from the NCDs,” he explained.
Along with security within the region, Heads would also discuss the continued trade relations with the United Kingdom (UK) post Brexit. LaRocque said CARICOM has been having some informal discussions with the UK Government in regard to proposals to roll over the trade agreement.