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Address by the Secretary-General Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ambassador Irwin LaRocque

I am delighted to have been invited to address you, once again, and even moreso given that you have described this event as the highlight of your annual calendar. 

 

I congratulate all the recipients of your prestigious awards, which I note cover a broad range of areas such as,  Export Achievement, New and Innovative Technologies and those for Lifetime and Long Service.  You all have reason to be proud of your achievements, your enterprise and your efforts at promoting Guyanese goods and services.

 

Much has changed since I last spoke to you, a couple of years ago.  Much has changed in Guyana, in the wider world, and in CARICOM.  For our part, the Caribbean Community has begun a process of reform.

 

A critical part of this process is our first-ever, Five-Year Strategic Plan which was approved in July of this year.  That represents delivery on the promise of a new direction for our organization, which I put before you when we last met.  Many of the initiatives I will mention this evening, are key priorities in that Plan.

 

As for Guyana, its economy continues to grow at a pace that leads the Region.  According to the Caribbean Development Bank, Guyana is one of only three CARICOM Member States, to exceed the global average of 3% growth in 2013.  

 

Guyana is also one of five CARICOM countries with debt-to-GDP ratios below the international benchmark of 60%.  Exports from Guyana to the rest of the Community, have been growing by approximately 10% per year.

 

These are all positive indicators.  But to sustain them, here and elsewhere, we must continue to enhance regional        co-operation across a broad range of fronts, economically, socially and in every other way.

 

As members of the private sector, you are key players in the drive towards increased prosperity for the people of this country, and this Region.  Also, the private sector has been persistent in its request for a seat at the table, in the Councils of the Community. I have heard you. our Leaders have heard you. 

 

Last July, the Heads of Government and the captains of industry had a free and frank exchange on the challenges facing the Region.  The Ministerial Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), has recognised the private sector as a partner, and agreed that it must take part in their deliberations in some way. 

 

You will recall there was an earlier joint agreement, with the Private Sector, to create a Caribbean Business Council (CBC) to represent the diverse interests of the private sector to the Organs of the Community. We continue to look forward to the creation of the Business Council.

 

In the meantime, I proposed and the Ministers agreed, that the COTED will engage the CAIC pending the creation of the CBC. The Secretariat and Caribbean Export will work with the private sector to facilitate the realisation of the CBC. 

 

The involvement and commitment of the Private Sector are essential to achieving our growth and development agenda. 

 

That agenda remains a challenging one, for many reasons.  I would like to mention a few of them, and what CARICOM is trying to do about them.

 

The effects of the global economic and financial crises of 2008, are still reverberating in our Community, and indeed around the world.   The communiqué of the recent G20 Summit in Australia bluntly states:  “The global recovery is slow, uneven and not delivering the jobs needed.  The global economy is being held back, and risks persist.” 

 

Some developed countries have been struggling to recover from the economic and financial crises. The result is, their focus with respect to development resources, has shifted to the poorest of the poor, to the detriment of countries classified as middle income. 

 

Most of our Member States continue to suffer from low growth coupled with high debt, which has left them with very little room to manoeuvre.   Never before have so many of our Member States endured, at the same time, such a protracted period of anaemic growth.  

 

The debt burden is exacerbated by the Region’s susceptibility to external economic shocks and unpredictable natural disasters. Indeed, there is technical analysis, done by the Caribbean Development Bank that has shown a strong correlation with those two exogenous shocks and periods of increased debt. 

 

Those two factors, plus dependence on a narrow range of exports and small market size, help to define us as vulnerable states.  

 

Geopolitical tensions are adding to the problem.  The major global players are focussed on trouble spots, like the Middle East, and have less attention and resources to devote to us. 

 

The Global Terrorism Index indicates that 60 countries were affected by acts of terrorism in 2013, with close to 18,000 deaths.  That’s a rise of more than 60 percent over the previous year.  

 

The actions of the self-styled Islamic State, in particular, prompted the United Nations Security Council to pass a Resolution on International Terrorism. This resolution is supported by our Member States.

 

Sad to say, CARICOM nationals are believed to be among the ranks of the Islamic State terrorists.  As the UN Resolution states, terrorist fighters “may pose a serious threat” to their States of origin, the States they transit and the States to which they travel, and “may affect all regions and Member States, even those far from conflict zones.”  We cannot afford to be complacent about this threat.

 

There are other challenges to our security, stability and sustained development – including public health threats.  Thankfully, the Ebola virus has so far evaded us.  On the other hand, Chikungunya, is still affecting the entire Region, and as yet shows no sign of abating, according to the Caribbean Public Health Agency.

 

CARPHA, a CARICOM Institution, has been doing outstanding work in the fight against Chikungunya, including laboratory testing and public education about such epidemics. 

 

These public health challenges must be a concern of us all. They have economic impacts, such as worker absenteeism, low productivity and rising health insurance costs, not to mention the charge on the public purse.

 

Today’s world is connected and interdependent.  People flow continuously across national boundaries.  That makes it imperative for us to exercise great caution with highly infectious diseases such as Ebola.  A single case could cause a social and economic catastrophe, in our mainly tourism-dependent economies.  

 

That is why to prevent Ebola from entering our Community, we have agreed to strengthened, effective, coordinated measures at ports of entry. 

 

We also agreed to create a Regional Rapid Response Team.  The Team would reach any Member State within twenty-four hours to support the national response to contain any outbreak. These measures are part of a 10-point plan to Stop Ebola There and Here, which is being co-ordinated by CARPHA, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation and other hemispheric partners.

 

Yet another threat to our Community is climate change.  This is truly an existential threat. The related phenomena of rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures and more frequent and intense weather events, mean for us a fight for our very survival. 

 

The estimated impacts are sobering.  A two-degree rise in global temperature will trigger severe adverse effects, for example, on water resources, agriculture, tourism, the fishing industry and public health. 

 

A one-metre rise in sea levels will affect our coastal communities and trigger negative economic impacts of hundreds of billions of US dollars.  This is why our Community is working to build its resilience against climate change and severe weather events, and provide a viable and secure society for our people.

 

I mentioned earlier the creation of the first-ever Community Strategic Plan.  CARICOM has existed for over forty years now.  We build on a solid foundation, laid down by the Treaty of Chaguaramas and its revised version, whose pillars of economic integration, human and social development, foreign policy co-ordination and security co-operation continue to serve us well. 

 

Nevertheless, as business people, you understand the need to examine critically your enterprise on a regular basis, to ensure that it is efficient, effective, relevant, and meeting the needs of the market. Forward planning, based on a vision of where you want to be, is also necessary in order to prepare pro-actively for changes in the operating environment.

 

That is what the Caribbean Community’s Five-Year Strategic Plan is intended to do.  It focuses on the theme of resilience:  economic, social, environmental and technological resilience. 

 

It identifies a number of concrete, achievable priorities with tangible benefits for citizens.  Among them are: 

 

• macro-economic stabilisation; 

 

• building competitiveness; 

 

• unleashing key economic drivers to create growth and generate employment; 

 

• human capital development; 

 

• climate adaptation and mitigation; 

 

• disaster mitigation and management; 

 

• and a single ICT space. 

 

The Plan is a critical part of the Reform Process, designed to ensure that the Secretariat, and all Community Organs and Institutions are positioned to achieve the goals set out.  It is predicated on increasing co-ordination and collaboration, among all parts of the Community – including the Member States. 

 

It also includes a system of monitoring and evaluation, to permit transparent reporting and accountability to stakeholders on our progress. That is new.

 

In pursuit of the Plan‘s goal of sustainable growth and development, we are pooling our intellectual capacity and sector expertise on specific Commissions in crucial areas.  These are the economy, transportation, and human resource development, as well as bringing together a group of experts with regard to ICT.

 

At the very top of our strategic agenda is the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, or CSME.  Full utilisation of the provisions of the CSME would undoubtedly enhance competitiveness for businesses throughout the Community – including yours. 

 

We have heard the private sector about the ease with which you should be able to conduct your business throughout the Region.  We, as a Community, are committed to realizing that key objective.

 

We recognise the need to improve the Doing Business Environment in the Community, and align it with international best practices.  That includes the harmonisation of business-related rules and regulations within the CSME.  To put it simply, an enterprise operating in the CSME should be faced with the same regulations, wherever their business is conducted.  That will make doing business easier. It is all about a single space. 

 

In one area, Harmonised Customs Legislation, the work is almost complete. Further, similar work will be undertaken to do the same, with laws and regulations governing securities markets. This would allow businesses to raise capital anywhere within the CSME. 

 

We are also creating a regional business registry, which would permit registration in one Member State of the CSME to be sufficient to operate in any other. The aim of all this is to establish a single jurisdiction for the operation of business.

 

We need your support to get this work done and to advocate for it. 

 

For those of you involved in the agriculture sector, the good news is that the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency, began its operations last month in Suriname.  The Agency will work with Member States to harmonise the different policies, practices, entry requirements and standards in CARICOM, to facilitate the flow of agricultural goods.

 

Agriculture can be a major driver of growth in the Community. Increased and diversified production and processing activity could stimulate the regional economy, while taking a sizable bite out of the food import bill.

 

Under the Common External Tariff (CET) regime, there are substantial requests for suspensions of the tariff, with respect to agricultural products. Some of these items can be produced in our Region, providing a sound export business opportunity. 

 

Another area identified to enhance our prospects for growth is that of services.  This broad-based sector has been the largest contributor to the Community’s GDP – led, of course, by Tourism.  This sector holds much potential, including niche tourism markets that extend beyond the traditional tourism product. 

 

There are prospects, for example, in cultural industries, sports, and retirement-related health services – not to mention eco-tourism, which is a growing sub-sector, here in Guyana.  These are all potential outlets for youth employment and entrepreneurship, as well as opportunities for small, and medium enterprises. 

 

Another significant driver of the economy is Information and Communications Technology.  We are working towards the creation of a Single ICT Space in CARICOM.  The objective is to establish modern, open telecommunications infrastructures and regulatory regimes, across our Community, to provide universal and affordable access. 

 

Advantages, such as number portability and lower broadband charges, will contribute to the reduction of the cost of doing business, improve our competitiveness and create new commercial opportunities. Increased use of ICT, can also nurture opportunities for youth employment and innovation.  

 

A major cost-driver for the business community – and indeed for society as a whole, is energy.  The high cost of energy adversely affects competitiveness.  The average cost of electricity across the Region, is more than 30 US cents per kilowatt hour. The bench mark is 10 cents. This is among the highest in the world, according to an Inter-American Development Bank study.  The cost is driven by the heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels, which is estimated at 10-15% of total regional GDP.  

 

The Community has developed an Energy Policy that emphasizes energy efficiency, and development of renewable energy alternatives, for both domestic use and export.  There is significant potential for this in our Community – as you in Guyana would know, given this country’s hydro-electric power potential.

 

Other alternatives in our Region include solar, geo-thermal and wind power.  Investment in renewables will reduce the cost of energy to consumers. It will also free up much needed foreign exchange, and create opportunities for export of electricity.

 

Another significant cost factor in this Region is transportation.  Safe, reliable, affordable transportation of both goods and people is essential, given our wide geographic spread. Recognising that reality, our work in that area is focussed on the delivery of such services, in the air and at sea. This is no easy task. And again, we need the private sector on board with us.

 

This would serve to strengthen our economic integration, through trade and the movement of people. Already the Secretariat has brought together, for the first time, the Chief Executives of all the regional airlines to look at areas of co-operation to provide better service.

 

I am advised that transportation and energy costs can account for as much as 40 percent of the CIF price of a product. Analysis done by the IDB suggests that if we could address those and other constraining factors, intra-regional trade could almost double in the long run.  

 

Key to the success of all our plans is the development of our human capital. You in the private sector, the drivers of economic growth, know what skills are required to improve competitiveness and you must be involved in the planning to develop the right mix of skills. 

 

This is why it is important that the private sector must also participate, in the work of the Commission on Human Resource Development being established. One of its main tasks is to develop a CARICOM Education Agenda, designed for students, at all levels, to be provided with the requirements and competencies, to be productive in Twenty-First Century societies and economies. 

 

That Twenty-First Century citizen would be a flexible learner, with critical thinking and analytical skills, prepared to adapt to the dynamic nature of the work environment.

 

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have no desire to detain awardees from receiving their just desserts much longer.  But there is one more subject I feel I must touch on.  

 

As much as we are doing for ourselves to drive the growth and development of our Region, there is no doubt about our ongoing need for support, both political and material, from the international community.  

 

At this point, let me pause to recognise the significant contribution of our Development Partners to our integration efforts. 

 

That support from the international community is one of the results of our co-ordinated foreign policy. That approach has enabled us to use our joint voice on issues that concern us in the global arena. 

 

Multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank are also increasingly engaging with us as a Community.

 

As a consequence, we have been able to gain ground on some key issues of importance to us.  Our tenacity at the World Trade Organisation, resulted in the recognition of small vulnerable economies in the Doha negotiations.

 

We have continued to highlight the inadequacy of using GDP per capita, as the principal criterion to access concessionary development financing. Our advocacy has caught the attention of the International Financial Institutions and some International Development Partners. 

 

This increased sensitivity is crucial to carve out benefits in global negotiations, like those for the Post-2015 Development Agenda. That Agenda will define the future global development framework. 

 

Already, many of our priorities for the negotiations of that Agenda, have been accepted by the grouping of Small Island and Low-Lying Developing States (or SIDS).  These include financing for development and criteria for graduation from concessionary financing. They form part of the platform agreed to recently in Samoa, at the Third International Conference on SIDS, attended by 115 countries.

 

The next step is to ensure that our priorities are carried forward in the negotiations. 

 

The alignment of our foreign policy co-ordination with our development needs, continues to pay dividends for our Community. But we can do much more.

 

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, in conclusion –  through our Five-Year Strategic Plan, the Caribbean Community is setting itself on a path to resilience, through deliberate and systematic action. We are moving forward internally to reform our procedures and operations to deliver on our priorities. This is to ensure that the opportunities afforded by such mechanisms as the CSME, are accessible to, and seized by all. 

 

We are using our collective voice in the international arena, to gain support for our development efforts.  The ultimate aim is to ensure that the people of the Region experience the positive impact of regional integration on their daily lives. 

 

We are a Community on the move. Inclusiveness and continuous consultation with our stakeholders – like yourselves – underlie the unified regional approach we all desire. It is that unity of spirit, and that spirit of unity, which will make us resilient enough to achieve our goal, of a sustainable, viable and safe Community for all our citizens. 

 

I thank you.

 

Source: www.sknvibes.com

 



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