The 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) saw the 15 member states reaffirm their commitment to regional integration and work for the benefit of everyone in the Caribbean region.
Held in Georgetown, Guyana, on July 4-6, 2016, topics covered at the meeting include the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), banking, crime and security issues, non-communicable diseases, free movement of people, the regional economy, and the burgeoning relationship between Guyana, Chile and the Caribbean Community. Plus, plans to intensify an educational media campaign to communicate the workings and benefits of Caricom to all levels of Caribbean society were raised. Meanwhile on the foreign affairs front, the UK’s vote to leave the EU (Brexit) also came up for discussion.
In his address, the current Caricom Chairman and Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, said the community has made significant progress since its formation 43 years ago, however more needs to be done, adding: “Caricom is not about imposing policies and programs on member states; it is about empowering member states by democratic means. A major responsibility, therefore, falls at the level of member states to get things moving.”
Just before the three-day meeting, Guyana’s President David Granger spoke of Caricom being fundamental to the development of the Caribbean region and how united efforts would advance raising living standards for its people. He also stressed the importance of the single market, saying: “Caricom is useful. Guyana cannot do without Caricom, but we are looking forward to the enhancement of the Single Market and Economy…we would like to move ahead much more quickly.”
Ripe for development
Throughout the conference, Mr Granger asked the other heads of state to encourage their business communities to view Guyana as the new horizon for business, especially in agriculture and tourism, with eco-tourism being particularly ripe for development. “The Rupununi region is bigger than Costa Rica so I am sure that they are interested,” President Granger commented. “We’ve got the best eco-tourism product on the continent so I expect that in years to come we will be seeing other developments with our Caribbean colleagues.”
Speaking to the press, Mr Granger added: “I told the heads today that Guyana and Suriname together are bigger than Germany so they must regard these large Caricom states as part of the hinterland of the Caribbean and we are open for business; we are open for investment; we are open for development, and we are all part of one community. So Guyana’s land space, the Caribbean land space, resources, petroleum, gold, diamond are all part of the Caribbean patrimony and I want to see us develop together.”
An advocate of regional integration
Not only is Guyana the only English-speaking country in South America, but it and Suriname are the only two countries to be members of both Caricom and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur).
“We are one of the founding members of the Caricom regional integration movement,” remarks Carl Greenidge, Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “We played an active role in the development of the Lomé convention, which is what binds the European Union to the African, Caribbean and Pacific states. We have been very keen to deepen regional integration across the language divide, across the Iberian, English and Dutch speaking areas, and we will continue to press that in the years ahead. We believe in it because we believe that in this way the region will be able to make a name for itself and stand up high enough to rival the major states. Certainly, in regional economic growth and integration in certain areas.”
Guyana’s Finance Minister Winston Jordan is keen to highlight the bridging role Guyana can play in connecting investors with opportunities in Latin America via its membership of Caricom and Unasur. “In our fresh approach to governance, we will be focusing on economic diplomacy; as such we will be re-shaping our external relations and policies to ensure that Guyana stays on a growth path,” he says. “We will continue to maintain, strengthen and enhance links with our traditional trading and diplomatic partners, like the US, UK, Canada, EU and the Caribbean. However, we will also be looking outward to Central and Latin America, and Africa.
“As a member of Caricom, we can give access to other Latin American countries and investors who are prepared to invest in Guyana, whether in the natural resource sector, forestry, agriculture, manufacturing or services (eco-tourism, ICT). Such goods can enter Caricom and the wider community because of our membership.”
Caricom comprises 15 full member states: Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago. It also has five associate members: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Guayanese government is currently looking forward to assuming the chairmanship of Caricom in January 2017 and hosting the 38th Regular Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government next year, where it will continue to be a firm advocate of regional integration.