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Jamaica, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad Tobago, the six CARICOM member states, which adopted the Single Market on January 1, yesterday (January 30), signed the formal declaration signaling the launch of the CARICOM Single Market (CSM), at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
Member countries of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines also signed declarations signaling their intent to join by the end of June this year.
The adoption of the CSM makes CARICOM the newest trading bloc to join the approximately 194 other trade blocs on the world market.
CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington in his remarks, said the move was a historical and unprecedented one. He said the formalizing of the CSM gave the region an opportunity to celebrate the progress made since the 1989 Grand Anse meeting and the signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which paved the way for the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
Prime Minister of Barbados, Owen Arthur, who has responsibility for the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), while hailing the move, said the immediate challenge would be to put mechanisms in place to ensure that the CSME did not become “a permanent coalition of unequals, but that its benefits are shared by all”.
He called on leaders to make the CSME a recognizable influence by enabling it to add value to Caribbean development by achieving food security on a regional basis and inserting a regional economy into the global economy, among other things.
Mr. Arthur said the CSME represented the most effective means by which the region’s individual economies could be successfully integrated into the evolving global economic system on terms that would enable it to minimize the costs and dislocation that could ensue from the integration, while maximizing the potential benefits.
He stressed that CARICOM could not succeed in the present global environment if it spoke in a “weak and ineffectual voice”. He said the external challenges facing the Community gave special urgency to the thrust to create the CSME in the “shortest practical time”.
Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, urged member countries to build on the achievement, noting that more remained to be done to achieve the single economic space that was eventually envisioned.
“We must not fail to meet the deadline of 2008 for the establishment of the CARICOM Single Economy. This is of utmost importance,” Mr. Manning stated.
Furthermore, he said it was necessary to co-ordinate and harmonise economic policies, interest rates, laws and tax regimes in order to create more even development across member states and enter more effectively into trading arrangements and economic links with other countries and regional groups.
Noting that poverty and underdevelopment, aided by the international arms and drug trade, had increased violent criminal activity in many Caribbean countries, he said focus must be placed on disadvantaged groups to create a fully inclusive community.
Prime Minister Manning said there was also a greater need for the provision of skills training for unemployed young people, as part of a poverty alleviation programme; the modernization of education policies, improved and more accessible healthcare and housing as well as improved national and regional security.
Chairman of the OECS and Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves in his remarks, said the OECS was fully committed to the process of regional integration, despite the fact that its members would not sign on fully until June 30. He said the event was more than a symbolic one and marked instead, a milestone in the forward journey of Caribbean civilisation.
The OECS is a nine-member group comprising Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Commonwealth of Dominica and associate members, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. The associate members are not signatories to CARICOM.
In keeping with the global trend, CARICOM inaugurated the Single Market on January 1.
The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which is expected to be fully implemented in 2008, seeks to go further than establishing a Free Trade Area (FTA). It seeks to establish a Single Market and Economy, which will ultimately mean not only the removal of tariffs and special treatment amongst each other, but also the harmonization of tax and social regimes. To achieve this goal, CARICOM has earmarked US$70 million to be used over a 10-year period. With the gradual removal of traditional preferential trading arrangements with the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) under the current World Trade Organisation (WTO) regime, the CSME has become vital to the survival of the Caribbean market. CARICOM member states, inclusive of Montserrat, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, The Bahamas and Haiti – signaled their awareness of this reality as early as 1965 when the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) was crafted by the Premiers of Barbados, British Guiana and the Chief Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. As the integration drive deepened, CARICOM was formed out of the 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas.
In 1989 at Grand Anse, Grenada, the decision was taken to further deepen the integration process by establishing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The Treaty of Chaguaramas was also revised during this meeting.
Because of its internal political situation, Haiti has, for the most part, been outside of the ambit of CARICOM activities. Bahamas, although a CARICOM member state, is not a signatory to the CSME, while Montserrat, a British dependency awaits the necessary instrument of entrustment from the UK in order to participate.