CARICOM Secretary General calls for collective solutions to Caribbean challenges

irwin_larocque_400ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Wednesday July 2, 2014, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Irwin La Rocque says regional countries must find collective solutions to the serious challenges being posed by an ever changing global environment.

La Rocque, speaking at the opening of the 35th CARICCOM Summit here on Tuesday night, said that Dickinson Bay where the three-day summit is being held provides an opportunity for Caribbean governments “to do what is required to make our integration arrangements more effective in its response to the challenges of the day”.

In December 1965, the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago signed the Dickenson Bay Agreement, establishing the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), the forerunner to CARICOM.

But La Rocque told delegates that in order to make the transition, regional countries “must find collective solutions to the serious challenges, particularly with respect to our economic condition, that threaten the hard won gains of our people.

“The structural and institutional characteristics which affect growth in our small, vulnerable economies combine to restrict our ability to compete internationally, expose our vulnerability to external events, and constrain our capacity for adjustment.”

He said that vulnerability is demonstrated by the lingering effects of the global economic and financial crisis in the region resulting among other things in stubbornly low growth rates.

“When added to a heavy debt burden and falling fiscal revenues, it leaves our governments with precious little room to manoeuvre especially as the International Financial Institutions and our development partners use the misleading criterion of per capita income to graduate us out of access to much needed concessionary development financing.”

La Rocque said importantly, neither the economic and financial crises nor the causes of climate change, originated within the Caribbean.

“However, there is analytical evidence to prove that their impact on the economies of most CARICOM States has heightened the debt and fiscal challenges we face.

“Formidable as these challenges are, our Community’s history clearly shows that we have never been daunted in the face of trials. It is now, in this period of acute economic stress faced by our region that the spirit of unity that brings us together in all forms of adversity, is infusing our actions as we seek to build the Community’s resilience to withstand the shocks, whether they are economic, social or climatic.”

He said never before in recent history, have so many of our member states faced such challenges at the same time for such a protracted period.

La Rocque said that it is in recognition of the need to find a regional resolution to the regional problem that regional governments mandated that “we prepare a strategic plan, which seeks to reposition the Community and which will inform the institutional mechanism to carry it forward.

“Having consulted extensively throughout the Community over the past year, the first ever Community Strategic Plan has been prepared. That plan, geared towards refocusing, redirecting, and reorganising the Community, is before this meeting and will set our course for the immediate future and beyond.”

He said the plan has identified eight strategic priorities to address the challenges over the five year period.

“Broadly, this will involve building resilience in the economic, social, environmental and technological areas, as well as strengthening governance and our spirit of Community. Co-ordinating our foreign and external economic relations, and research, development and innovation are also essential elements of the strategy.”

But the region’s top public servant warned that the key to the success of the plan is agreement on the priority activities and the steps to implement them.

“That in itself will be a sign that we are truly on the way to achieving that mature regionalism which is required to guide the future of our Community. We must now harness and channel our resources optimally, to get the results that will benefit the people of the Community.

“A critical factor in delivering those benefits is how we organise ourselves to make it possible in an effective and efficient manner. This is a plan for the Community and all of the Community must be involved.

“To succeed would entail a level of co-operation and co-ordination involving our Member States, all the Institutions of the Community and the Secretariat operating, within a responsive governance structure with clear lines of accountability under the direction of our Heads of Government,” La Roque added.