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The trade dependent countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must take decisive steps to promote growth and sustainable development in an increasingly difficult global trading environment.
Trade Ministers of the Region recognise this and at the recently-held 55th Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) Ministers prioritised an urgent and in depth assessment of the Region’s trade performance and prospects for improvement.
CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General, Ambassador Wayne McCook, said that the emphasis on the trade performance diagnostic is “very important” because of the link between the region’s strong growth agenda for agriculture and industrial goods and the “drive for competitiveness and expansion of exports”.
“The fact is that we are all open economies, heavily reliant on trade, so we can either take deliberate steps to shape a trade policy that supports our development agenda or remain “at the mercy of the external forces that drive global trade”. The COTED has asked the Secretariat to assess these forces and examine the ways that we can prepare to navigate the difficult trade and economic environment in which the Region must find its way. We must endeavour to navigate safely towards the goals that we have set – these goals of course are growth and development and sustainable development for the region, Amb McCook said.
The trading environment is also being impacted by the COVID-19 and the economic effects of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“The Region has to grapple with the fallout from these crises and at the same time contend with serious vulnerabilities including those presented by the existential challenges of climate change, the lack of scale and small size of most of our economies. These challenges demand our very deliberate and strategic engagement with focused efforts to maximise the advantages that we have and mitigate some of the challenges and difficulties that we face. Member States, governments across the region recognise the challenge and are seeking to ensure that we find opportunities to increase competitiveness, increase productivity and enhance trade performance. The COTED has to support these efforts,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.
Amb. McCook heads the Secretariat’s newest directorate established earlier this year – Single Market and External Trade – based in Bridgetown, Barbados. With trade as the focus of the COTED Meeting, which was held 28-29 November, the Single Market and Trade Directorate provided vital support to the Trade Ministers.
In providing highlights of the Meeting, he pointed to progress made on matters relating to the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) including commitments by Member States to support and approve government procurement and competition policies.
“There’s still work to be done to conclude on these items, but certainly the Council advanced work on these,” he said.
Trade in Goods
In the area of trade in goods, Amb. McCook highlighted the “extensive work” that was done on the approval of suspensions to the Common External Tariff (CET) that Member States had applied for on behalf of their industries. He explained that Member States give careful consideration to the suspensions. He emphasised that the CET exists to “support regional production, and exceptions to it have to be carefully considered to ensure that the benefits that the Region provides to producers within the Single Market are preserved and maintained … exceptions to the CET must be limited to those where it is appropriate and necessary.”
The CET and the Rules of Origin, the two core CARICOM trade instruments, are currently under review. The Ministers were updated on the review which is on track to be completed in the first half of next year.
“The updates provided to the ministers on the work being undertaken by experts was well received. This is very intensive work that is at an advanced state. We are looking – after a number of decades, actually – at what was a fundamentally sound framework for both instruments… but a framework that, of course, would need to be adapted to the current production and distribution needs of the regional and external markets.
“This is a high priority and so the Council took note of the efforts being made to move forward in close collaboration with stakeholders – manufacturers, producers, the private sector as a whole, led by Member States. The Council emphasised the importance of continuing to focus this work on the regional strategic interest in promoting production and we know that at the moment there are significant efforts being made to advance a regional agriculture policy and develop a regional industrial policy that would favour expanded production of goods within the Region to supply regional demand. These measures will require that the trade policy instruments are supportive of both industrial and agricultural policies which would rely on them to be effective,” Amb. McCook said.
Trade in honey was among the items that Ministers discussed. The Assistant Secretary-General reported continued progress to address the concerns. The expectation he said, is that the matter, which has been of concern to the Council will be resolved “in the near future.”
The Ministers took “careful note” of the outcomes of the World Trade Organisation 12th Ministerial Conference. According to Amb. McCook, they emphasised the importance of continued engagement by the CARICOM Secretariat and Member States in the follow-up work, including on matters such as the agreement on fisheries subsidies which now stand to be implemented.
There were also valuable discussions on the ongoing negotiations for the expansion of Preferential Market Access under the Agreement on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation with CARICOM and the Government of Colombia. Ministers took decisions on the way forward on which Member States and the Secretariat are to act on in the coming months. (CARICOM TODAY)