ACS Secretary General speaks of challenges of his tenure

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
April 5, 2000

ASCERTAINING exactly what the 28 members of the Association of Caribbean States want out of a cooperation agreement sealed three years ago with CARICOM, is seen by the grouping's new Secretary-General, Dr Norman Girvan, as one of the major hurdles of his term of office.

The Jamaican economist was speaking at a press briefing Monday, during a break in the afternoon session of a landmark meeting between the ACS and CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Secretariats.

Girvan said: "One of the challenges that I see for myself as the first Secretary-General from this particular part of the ACS region, is in developing a sense of the interest that all the constituent members have in facilitating and promoting this kind of cooperation."

Girvan, who succeeded the ACS's first Secretary-General, Venezuelan Dr Simon Molina Duarte, on February 1, is here at the invitation of CARICOM Secretary-General Dr Edwin Carrington for the purpose of deciding on specific areas of cooperation between the two secretariats as set out in the arrangement.

He is accompanied by the grouping's Director of Trade and Integration, Dr Miguel Ceara Hatton of the Dominican Republic, and Guyanese Dr Riyad Insanally, who is in charge of Political Affairs.

As Carrington, who chaired the briefing, was to note, Article 1 of the arrangement decrees that the two secretariats "shall work in close collaboration and shall hold consultations on a regular basis on matters of common interest and in support of the objectives of the ACS and of CARICOM".

The true nature of their discussions on Monday, Girvan said, was "to ensure that we [at the ACS] complement the efforts of one another; that we don't duplicate what CARICOM does and [in so doing] add value" to the whole process.

Both he and Carrington agreed that talks had, up to mid-afternoon, been "very full, comprehensive" and overall fruitful.

Girvan went a step further, saying that discussions had been "extremely businesslike and friendly", and that he thought that they augured "very well for the cooperation between the two secretariats".

He was, however, at pains to explain that contrary to widespread opinion across the Caribbean, the ACS is not in competition with CARICOM, and that neither were the two groupings the same.

Noting that both groupings and their secretariats complemented each other, Girvan pointed out that CARICOM is an economic community while the ACS "is a zone of cooperation whose sphere of concern is the entire Caribbean Basin".

The ACS, he said, comprises 28 countries, 25 of which are full members. These are Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, Guyana, Antigua/Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Kitts/Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname and Haiti.

The other three countries, he said, are associate members, and comprise Aruba and the Netherland Antilles and France, the latter with respect to its three Caribbean overseas departments, namely Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyane (French Guiana).

In size, he said, it is also very significant, in that its combined population is 220 million, which is about half that of Latin America (Latam) and the Caribbean. It also has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of close to US$600M, which, again, is about one third that of Latam and the Caribbean.

"So it is a very significant grouping in terms of size, but it not an economic bloc," Girvan maintained. "I prefer to call it a zone of cooperation," he said.

Activities of cooperation to have so far come out of the ACS since its establishment on July 24, 1994, Girvan said, embrace all of those areas which one would expect to be embraced by a group of neighbouring countries with common interests.

Among these activities are trade liberalisation and facilitation, wherein initiatives are mostly to do with a Caribbean preferential tariff in which all or most members of the Caribbean Basin would participate.

There is also a business and investment forum which addresses such issues as cooperation amongst trade promotion organisations in the region.

Other activities are in the area tourism, which Girvan sees as being common to the Caribbean Basin, transport (both air and sea), the environment and natural resources (where focus is on the integrated management of the Caribbean Sea and the protection of its environmental integrity) and the management of natural disasters. There is also a cluster programme of cooperation on science, technology, health education and culture.

Noting that these were the main elements of the ACS system of cooperation, and that they complemented those of CARICOM within the wider Caribbean Basin, Girvan said, "I just wanted to speak to that because in going around the region, we have found that there is this confusion" whereby people are asking whether there is a need for CARICOM now that there is the ACS, and vice versa.

Girvan and his team left yesterday.