Bureau to take urgent decisions on trade, politics

By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
October 16, 2000

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CANA - A controversial oil sale proposal by Venezuela to some regional states and the future of the Caribbean's banana market in Europe are two major issues on which decisions are to be made at today's meeting of the Bureau of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Also to be decided is the sending of an Observer Mission

to monitor Guyana's forthcoming elections in January 2001, and whether or not to send a team to Haiti to monitor the scheduled November 27 presidential election in view of the unresolved controversy over the May 21 parliamentary elections.

High on the agenda for the meeting of the Bureau - the Community's Management Committee - is a recent initiative by Venezuela to sell some CARICOM states and Cuba oil on concessionary terms to cushion the burden of current high import prices.

The move has provoked some controversy within CARICOM with the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Lester Bird, deeming it discriminatory and warning of implications by a planned exclusion of Guyana with which Venezuela has a century-old claim to some two thirds of its 83,000 square miles.

The Guyana government itself has officially drawn to the attention of CARICOM a statement attributed to Venezuela's Foreign Minister Vincent Rangel in Caracas that "oil has always been a political weapon over the years", when answering a media question about the non-inclusion of Guyana.

President Hugo Chavez's government has invited Caribbean and Central American states likely to benefit from its proposed "Caracas Energy Accord" to a meeting in the Venezuelan capital on Wednesday, October 18.

"This makes it, therefore, a matter of urgency for the CARICOM Bureau to deliberate and come up with a recommendation for heads of government ahead of Wednesday's meeting, particularly in view of a lot of misunderstandings and misrepresentations on the matter," CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington told CANA yesterday.

Carrington confirmed that the Secretariat was in possession of a letter from the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Percival Patterson, that explains why his own government was favourably considering the Venezuelan offer in the context of a beneficiary regional state from an old and existing "San Jose Accord".

The four CARICOM states that have traditionally benefitted from the San Jose Accord, named after the capital of Costa Rica where it was signed, are Jamaica, Belize, Haiti and Barbados.

Current CARICOM chairman, Prime Minister James Mitchell of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who will be presiding at today's Bureau meeting, had earlier said he was "disturbed" over the exclusionary move by Venezuela.

He, however, stressed that "the matter could perhaps best be resolved by dialogue with President Chavez's government".

Guyana's Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, said yesterday he had seen a copy of Prime Minister Patterson's letter on the issue.

He explained that Guyana was awaiting the outcome of the CARICOM Bureau meeting "to find out what sort of prior consultation should take place among beneficiary and non-beneficiary CARICOM states of the San Jose Accord ahead of Wednesday's meeting in Caracas to which some countries have been invited by Venezuela to enter into bilateral arrangements".

Questioned about the possibility of Guyana turning to Trinidad and Tobago as a reliable alternative source for its oil and petroleum-based products, Rohee said he would prefer not to comment on that issue at this stage, adding:

"Alternative or multiple sources for such a vital commodity as oil is clearly not a matter to be ignored particularly in prevailing circumstances".

On the other important agenda item, the sale of bananas to the European Union market, the Bureau meeting is expected to critically review the EU's new tariff only, and first-come first-serve system.

It is a development that has worrying implications for the region's banana exporters, according to Secretary General Carrington, who said that while the EU's decision had come as a surprise, the stand being taken by the USA was to be "welcome".

According to reports, the USA has suggested to the EU that it was inclined to favour the Caribbean's draft proposals which seek a secured quota and specified tariff rate plus free competition.

On the monitoring of elections in Haiti and Guyana, the Bureau will have for consideration an invitation from Guyana for a CARICOM Observe Mission for the elections expected by January 17, 2001.

It will also determine what recommendations should be made to the heads of government in relation to the political impasse in Haiti, given the decision by the major opposition parties to boycott the November 26 poll for which ex-President Jean Bertrand Aristide is the only nominee to have been registered.

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