I welcome the opportunity to speak to you at the official launch of the CARICOM Single Market. This is my first address as Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government; and I wish to start by saying that Trinidad and Tobago is honoured and especially privileged to be in the Chair at this momentous time. We aim to do our utmost to advance the regional agenda. I am also quite pleased that this meeting is taking place in Jamaica, since it affords us the opportunity to savour the company of a stalwart and icon of CARICOM, the Most Honourable P.J. Patterson, who as a committed regionalist, has made a seminal contribution to the development of the Caribbean. I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Patterson in Port-of-Spain next month, to what could possibly be the last time that he would be leading the Jamaican Delegation to a Heads of Government meeting. I am sure that we would then have ample opportunity to pay very deserving tribute to this towering figure of the Caribbean, whose work contributed most significantly to the attainment of the Single Market that we inaugurate today.
On January 1st. of this year, our nations undoubtedly reached an important milestone in the integration movement with the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market. It has been tough, time-consuming work, involving, among other labours, implementation of the protocols, policy formulation, enactment of domestic law and institution building; all requiring decisiveness, commitment and careful political management. Those countries which are already signatories to the Single Market, as well as those which will become members by the end of March, all deserve our congratulations. We also look forward to the day when all member states will be part of this most significant development.
We must pay special tribute to the Government and people of Barbados whose Prime Minister is assigned the responsibility for spearheading our efforts towards the Single Market and Economy. Under the dedicated leadership of the Rt. Honourable Owen Arthur, we have been taken to the point where vast possibilities now lie before us. We must also be grateful for the efforts of the CARICOM Secretariat which, under the tenacity of Dr. Edwin Carrington, provided the tremendous, indispensable technical and administrative support for this enterprise.
It has certainly been a long and arduous road from Chaguaramas in 1973. From there we managed to reach that historic Declaration of Grand Anse which marked one of the most significant turning points on the journey of unification on which we have been embarked since we assumed responsibility for our destiny. Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we inaugurate the Caribbean Single Market today, we should not fail to recognize that we are both participants and witness of History in motion.
We should be pleased that we have been shaping the History ourselves. Too often are the smaller developing nations of the world described as hapless victims of larger global developments. With this achievement, we in CARICOM are proving that we are, in fact, in charge of our lives.
It therefore behooves us, on this occasion, to pay tribute to the founding fathers of the Caribbean Community on whose work we continue to build. It is their vision which has led us to this point; a vision born from an understanding of our common experience; the desire of our people; and the need to make our future more secure. That vision has been sufficiently strong and of enduring relevance to survive the many challenges it has faced over the years. I am sure that it will ultimately prove to be a source, inspiration and foundation of the Caribbean Civilization that has been in the making ever since History brought our ancestors to these shores.
The Caribbean Single Market is a critical step in the growth of our Caribbean Society. It will certainly advance our economic integration, stimulating sustainable growth, jobs and social development in all our countries. But, very significantly, as has been seen throughout history, economic integration has often been the catalyst for the social and cultural welding of peoples and nations. We could therefore be eventually provided with more potent reason for very serious consideration of deeper union among our nations. In the view of some, this is inescapable. Today’s Single Market should consequently be seen as the forerunner of a greater singleness that is sure to grow in the course of this century. We must therefore seize the opportunity that we have created together.We must build on this achievement of the CARICOM Single Market, now that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas is at hand. We also have some distance to go to complete that single economic space which is so vital to the viability of our nations in the fiercely competitive global arena, and must make that extra effort towards this end. We must not fail to meet the deadline of 2008 for the establishment of the CARICOM Single Economy. This is of utmost importance. It is absolutely necessary to coordinate and harmonise, inter alia, our economic policies, interest rates, laws and tax regimes in order to create more even development across member states; enter more effectively and smoothly into trading arrangements and economic links with other countries and regional groupings; and ensure that our region improves its attractiveness for the increased inflows of new capital for the development of all our nations. Our region must become more internationally competitive.
Our survival depends on our growing togetherness. The world has always been a harsh place for the small and vulnerable, but is so even more now, as the intensified global competition for markets and investment increases the threat of marginalization. As we can see, the developed countries continue to pay particular attention to creating and improving their advantages, getting into regional and global arrangements across borders, oceans and cultures, enlarging their markets, efficiency and production capacity, as they further consolidate their lead in the race for development and succeed in improving their societies and economies.
The truth is that we who are bonded together by history, geography and culture ought to have been much further ahead in the pursuit of our solidarity. Having now reached this point, we must now move much faster than before. We must step on the gas. We need prosperity and development to deal with our common problems. Poverty and underdevelopment for example, aided by the international trade in illegal drugs and arms, have increased violent criminal activity to unacceptable levels in many of our countries.
We must focus on disadvantaged groups and create the fully inclusive society; provide our young and unemployed with skills training as an essential part of our poverty alleviation programes; modernize our education policies to ensure a workforce that can take advantage of the new jobs and opportunities; make better health care more accessible to all; improve national and regional security; place emphasis on the provision of housing and the strengthening of family life; upgrade and extend the physical infrastructure for the provision of basic amenities; and do everything possible to ensure that all our people, in each of our relatively small populations, can find opportunity for fulfillment and in the process contribute to national development.
How is it possible to achieve these goals without self-generating resources on a sustainable basis? Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, we need, as a matter of urgency, the fullest possible flowering of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy which will develop and sustain the inner economic dynamism that we need.
There are other global threats both man-made and natural. The Aids Pandemic continues its toll amongst us. The Bird Flu can easily alight in our region. Rising sea levels are altering the shape and quality of our coast lines. And changing weather patterns are producing more numerous and fiercer storms and hurricanes with their accompanying devastation. We need the resources to protect ourselves and ameliorate the effect of these and other challenges.
Additionally, and most significantly Ladies and Gentlemen, the creation of a free and fair multilateral trading system continues to elude the international community. The Doha process is merely inching around instead of taking the bold steps that will generate the wealth to benefit all of humanity and lift billions of people out of grinding poverty mainly in the developing world. In our own hemisphere, the stalling of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas is tied to the unresolved issues at the WTO. And so we continue to wait for the promise of special trading arrangements for the small, vulnerable economies at both the global and hemispheric levels. And whilst we wait, we witness the ongoing erosion of favourable access to one of our major markets, a process through which we now stand to completely lose a major instrument of essential revenue for the development of our people.
These are the bald facts before us on this day when we inaugurate our CARICOM Single Market. All I can say is thank God we have done it. Could you imagine how floundering we could have been without the S.S. CSM to ride the treacherous waves of the turbulent global waters? In spite of all, we are still on course. Our challenge now is to expand and further equip this precious vessel, making it stronger and more seaworthy as we sail towards our goal. That goal is the development of a confident, secure and unique Caribbean Civilisation which is rooted in our history and the hearts of our people. It is the dream of a society of abundant talent that can produce more Nobel laureates, more great statesmen, intellectuals, artists and sports-persons, including a cricket team that will one day rule the world again.
We want a region where our entrepreneurs, big and small, have the conditions for the phenomenal growth and expansion to match those at the global level and for which they have already proven their capability. We want a community of nations where democracy thrives and good governance reigns based on integrity, transparency, accountability and rule of law; where the welfare of the people is the pre-eminent concern; where the people themselves are secure and prosperous; where the talent does not drain away to apparently greener pastures; but where the young remain and find the opportunity for fulfillment and make the future of the region more assured.
Such is the Caribbean Society and Civilization of which we dream and towards which we are further embarked, now with greater certainty as we inaugurate the CARICOM Single Market.
Let us continue moving forward and May God Bless our region.
Thank you Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen.