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Wednesday, January 18, 2006 

Caribbean new single market economy increases regional clout
By Peter Richards
Updated Jan 18, 2006, 12:20 pm

PORT OF SPAIN (IPS/GIN) - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have quietly launched their long talked-about single market designed to allow goods, services and skilled workers to move more easily throughout the region.

“Today, the single market component of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) comes into force, involving Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago,” said Patrick Manning, the prime minister of oil-rich Trinidad and Tobago, who assumed the chairmanship of the regional bloc at the start of the year.

The official ceremony for the single market initiative is scheduled for Jan. 23 in Jamaica.
Mr. Manning said the Bahamas and Haiti—the latter suspended from CARICOM deliberations following the controversial removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office in February 2004—have “not signified their intention to participate in the CSME process.”

Under the trade accord, the governments have agreed to lift tariffs among participating members, and all citizens can open businesses, provide services and move capital throughout the single market without restrictions. The governments will also replace national travel documents with a regional passport by 2007.

Member nations will have access to bilateral free trade agreements that CARICOM has already made with Colombia, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

The Barbados Nation newspaper says it does not regard the fact that only six member states were involved in the launch of the CSME as a crisis, reminding readers that, “CARICOM was inaugurated 32 years ago with four signatory countries—Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.”

Caribbean officials remain optimistic that the other nations—mainly those in the smaller Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS)—would eventually join the initiative. Regional governments have called it a suitable response to the changing global environment characterized by mega-trading blocs and the loss of preferential treatment for their goods and services on the world market.

“A single regional market of 12 or 15 million people in mid-income developing countries is, in the context of the global economy, by no means powerful. The point though is that this is far more substantial than a series of individual markets of small populations,” said the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

“To put together a single market and economy is a historic thing,” said Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, who has lead responsibility for the CSME within the region.

He acknowledged that getting the OECS on board was not the only issue that needed to be addressed with the new common market. Another relates to the actual Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that sets out the legal context in which the CSME is created.

Even with the full support of the OECS, Mr. Arthur said there was a need for an amendment to the treaty to allow CSME-ready countries to proceed to ratification. Article 234 currently prescribes that the treaty will enter into force when all CARICOM countries ratify the agreement.

“We are trying to have that process completed to have 12 countries agree to the ratification rather than 14 to allow the treaty to enter into force,” said Mr. Arthur, who appeared confident that OECS countries would honor their obligations.

He had been mandated by CARICOM leaders to visit a number of OECS states to discuss ratification, including Belize, Guyana and Suriname, which “face particular challenges,” according to an official CARICOM statement.

CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington described the CSME as “an important psychological and political step for this region” even though less than half the membership was ready to enter the trade accord by Jan. 1.

Mr. Manning said that Montserrat, an OECS member state that is also a British dependency, is awaiting the necessary instrument of entrustment from the British government, even though it has indicated that it intends to “be on board by the end of the first quarter of 2006.”

The OECS countries—namely Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Montserrat and St. Kitts-Nevis—have complained that their current economic position would place them at a disadvantage if they were to participate in the CSME, and have called on their regional colleagues to implement a special Regional Development Fund (RDF) to assist them.

Proposals for the initial size of the fund vary from $50 million to $120 million, with suggestions for mobilizing financial resources from CARICOM governments, the region’s private sector and extra-regional donor agencies and institutions.

The move to establish the CSME dates back to 1989 when regional leaders adopted the Grand Anse Declaration at their meeting in Grenada, agreeing to remove restrictions on the free movement of capital and of approved categories of skilled CARICOM nationals, and the provisions of services.

© Copyright 2006 FCN Publishing, FinalCall.com

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