Community made incremental, appreciable progress in 2019 – CARICOM SG

CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque
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It is that season once again when in an atmosphere of joy and peace we can sit back and reflect on the impact of the past year on our lives.

It has been a year in which we have made incremental but appreciable progress in our efforts at having integration make a positive difference in the lives of the people.

In pursuing that task, I have drawn inspiration from the spirit of the Youth of our Community and was encouraged by my engagement with them last June in a live and on-line session. It attracted more than 15,000 participants in a lively discussion on social, economic, health and environmental issues, pertinent to them.

Their interest in the major global issues of the day was highlighted by three youth activists from our Community, Khadija Usher of Belize, Dainalyn Swaby of Jamaica, and Mareeka Dookie of Trinidad and Tobago, joining other climate youth leaders from around the world at the first-ever Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations in September.

This interest in the environment was underlined by Johanan Dujon of Saint Lucia who in establishing the Caribbean’s first indigenous agriculture biotech firm to fight invasive seaweed threatening the Region, was recognised as one of the 30 under 30 entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine. His creative and innovative actions are a fine example of the capabilities of our young people.

Such actions will be explored when representatives of the Private Sector, Labour and Civil Society meet with the Heads of Government during the twice-yearly Summits to create a pool of ideas to improve the lives of the people of the Region. The results will no doubt benefit the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). One of its main measures, the free movement of skilled workers, received a boost when all countries signed a Protocol on Contingent Rights that allows for spouses and dependents of persons who move in accordance with the free movement regime to another country to access services such as primary health care and education up to the secondary school level. Eight of our Member States have agreed to apply it provisionally.

Opportunities have been widened for the private sector with the Agreement on the Protocol for Public Procurement which when fully implemented will open up a lucrative market, as individuals and firms will have the opportunity to bid for public sector contracts in all CSME-participating Member States. This has great potential for boosting growth and employment.

The availability of affordable and accessible transportation is a major factor in fulfilling that potential. An increase in options in intra-Regional air travel for people and cargo has been put in place through a Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA), which allows for no restriction on routes, capacity or traffic rights and will soon be fully operational.

The vast source of talent, energy and creativity that resides in the Community, and upon which we have to draw, was on full display at the CARIFESTA XIV which was held in Trinidad and Tobago. The explosion of music, art, dance, film, literary works, fashion and food highlighted the richness and diversity of our cultural expression and excited the huge crowds that flocked daily to the venues.

The satisfaction that these facets of life bring to all of us could only be enjoyed within a secure environment. We have continued to build the security architecture to safeguard our citizens and deny criminals the benefits of their ill-gotten gains. An example is the adoption of the Agreement on the Return and Sharing of Recovered Assets from criminal activity which provides a framework for our countries to retrieve criminally obtained assets that have been moved to another jurisdiction within the Community.

One of the pleasures of this holiday period is welcoming family and friends who return home from the Region and abroad. The remittances from family overseas are also awaited expectantly, particularly at Christmas time. Strong advocacy on our part on the denial of correspondent banking services and blacklisting of some of our countries for non-cooperation in tax matters will continue.

There is no doubt that our strong record of support for multilateralism, and the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, were significant factors in the successful bid of St Vincent and the Grenadines for the prestigious position of a seat on the UN Security Council. It is a significant accomplishment for the Government and People of St. Vincent and Grenadines and the Region, as the country became the smallest ever state to gain a seat on the Security Council.

As we celebrate in this festive season, we must not forget our brothers and sisters in The Bahamas, who are still struggling to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian which claimed more than 50 lives and destroyed property and infrastructure, particularly on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama.

Keep them and others less fortunate in your thoughts as you share the joys of Christmas with your loved ones.

Happy holidays to you all.

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