COTED advances work on creating improved framework for Region to trade
The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) is reporting progress in matters that will help create an improved framework for the Region to trade.
The CARICOM Council of Ministers of Trade met 28-29 November in hybrid format anchored at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana.
Ministers held discussions on:
- the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) including the facilitation of the expanded categories of skilled workers – domestic workers, agricultural workers, and private security officers. At their 43rd Meeting, CARICOM Heads of Government had agreed to definitions of and qualifications for the three categories of workers for free movement;
- Procurement Policy and a Merger and Acquisitions Policy for the CSME;
- Trade in Goods that included approval of the suspension of the Common External Tariff (CET) on a number of items, as well as matters related to Rules of Origin.
Ministers also had in-depth discussions on the Region’s external trade agenda, particularly as it relates to the developments emerging from the Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and other external trade agreements.
In addition to the Regular Meetings of the COTED, Ministers will meet in special sessions in 2023 to consider specific matters.
Chair of the Meeting was the Hon. Alva Baptiste, Minister of External Affairs International Trade, Civil Aviation and Diaspora Affairs of Saint Lucia.
He spoke with the Communications Unit at the conclusion of the Meeting. Here are excerpts:
“First of all, I am going to deal with the context of the meeting. Normally when we attend COTED, we have some heavy issues, some heavy lifting to do on the agenda. Certainly, we navigated a very heavy agenda with great efficiency and effectiveness which of course speaks to the quality of individuals in the room. It speaks to the level of competence of the Secretariat and a willingness to address the pressing but legitimate needs of the Community.
We are aware that we live in a very different world to the one we once knew, post-Cold War period. The post-Cold War dividends have not materialised for the vast majority of humanity and OECS and the rest of CARICOM are confronted with some serious headwinds and some serious challenges, and we embrace the view that in terms of defining the new development trajectory for the Community, we need to mainstream trade-related issues in that overall development project.
We had a number of items like the honey issue. This, in itself, has been diluted. There were positive engagements. I see a willingness and it creates an improved framework for those matters to disappear from the COTED agenda because they have been occupying the COTED agenda for a long time.
In terms of the free movement of workers … in keeping with the decision of the Heads, we are sensitive to those issues and certainly will put the necessary legislative framework in place to ensure that we facilitate that particular development or that particular recommendation or decision by the Heads.
Undoubtedly, the legislative aspect will always feature prominently because good policy can be frustrated by poor legislation and so the two must be approached together and in a holistic way moving forward with the business of the Community.”
“There is greater awareness that we cannot continue to advocate for regional integration without complying with decisions of COTED. Part of it would be that we sit, we ventilate issues, we take a decision, and we need to implement. We can understand sometimes matters might take longer than usual, but we are not going to allow matters to just remain in abeyance indefinitely. We are certainly not going to practise that…So we are going to clear that agenda. I see commitment. I see some dedication as far as those who were in the room were concerned. I think the tone is set that those encumbrances must be removed.”
“No doubt, we have to create an improved framework for us to trade; that’s inevitable, because as small, open and vulnerable economies and the whole factor of being open, it means you depend heavily on international trade. And therefore, goods from outside would be very important to us in coming in. But we also want to create that improved framework for us to be able to export as we try to develop a more vibrant private sector. We need to approach those negotiations with some degree of realism and, of course caution, because trade cannot continue to be in just one direction. We need to ensure that the balance of payments are dealt with and could be healthier by us trading more effectively and trying to get our exports out. So quite a bit of discussions went into how we treat with countries outside of CARICOM. I think that moving forward, we will be better at dealing with third parties, third countries as far as trade-related matters are concerned.”
Private sector role
The Chairman said an improved framework for “you to produce what you use and to utilise the wider construct of CARICOM to export”, is the strategic goal of a creating more vibrant private regional sector.
“But also, food security is absolutely necessary. China is one of the big countries… that produces quite a lot of food. It has about 350 million farmers producing. But China is one of the leading importers as well, so even though you produce and you do things to reduce the over-dependence on foreign markets, you are still going to be in a position to trade because you will not be able to produce everything that you need. The growth and development of the private sector in that regard is important to the dynamism of the respective economies of the Region and so we can no longer continue by politicians by themselves, just governments and the public service crafting policies. You need to create a new vision. We need a new political ethic to mobilise change … So no doubt, the private sector will be part of the architecture of change and other social partners that will help in the overall development project of our Region.”
“Consistent with the new thinking that we cannot simply have a list of what we want or a list of what we need: we need the strategic thinking that will drive those changes that we wish to make, the structural changes. So, we are going to meet in special COTED to discuss the spectrum of issues as well as how we are going to operationalise our plans moving forward to have trade to be more mainstreamed in the development affairs of the Community so it would impact the whole economy, how we treat with the private sector and other partners that are vital in the development of our Region. No doubt, we need a shared vision because we have a common destiny and that common vision must be clearly defined because want – irrespective of any political party which may occupy the corridors of power – we want those policies to remain there, to reach maturity, to give birth to the results that our people have been calling for, for a very long time. Every time you change governments you break the cycle. It interrupts the development agenda, especially if the other party goes off on a tangent of its own. So, I think that the Region must mobilise from within itself and set the agenda and political parties can come, but that development agenda must remain so that we can achieve the types of results we would like to see.
I was very happy with the meeting. I received the cooperation and respect from member countries. I tried to keep the meeting on track and in focus and I think we achieved that. I think the quality of interventions was quite commendable. The Secretariat staff quite competent, committed, dedicated and hardworking, and I want to recognise them for their hard work. I think I’m optimistic about the future.”