A significant occasion

Stabroek News
February 14, 2001

The l2th inter-sessional meeting of the heads of government of the Caricom Community that starts in Barbados today will be significant for at least one reason, the signing of the agreement to set up the Caribbean Court of Justice. This court, as soon as it becomes operational, will in its original jurisdiction decide disputes in connection with the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME). It will hopefully also, in the not distant future, in its appellate jurisdiction accept appeals from the courts of the various territories and will replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in all these countries, except Guyana.

President Bharrat Jagdeo is not going and Guyana will be represented by Foreign Minister Clement Rohee. One of the issues to be discussed will be the finalisation of Haiti's full membership. Given the urgency to bring the single market into force, we had argued that the admission of Suriname and Haiti as members at this stage did not make sense as for a variety of reasons (size in the case of Haiti, language) they would complicate procedures. However, it seems the die is cast.

Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados who will chair the meeting as the current Chairman of Caricom also has responsibility for the introduction of the CSME. In his progress report, he will no doubt re-emphasise that more must be done by member states to implement decisions and honour deadlines. Hopefully, a time bound agenda can be agreed.

The Regional Negotiating Machinery was set up in l997 to devise a strategy for participation in international economic negotiations. It is on the agenda at this meeting because there are serious financial problems as some member states have failed to pay their dues. They also have to fill some important vacancies due to recent resignations in this organisation which has performed a valuable role and will be of vital importance in the next few years, in particular as regards negotiations with the European Union and in relation to the Free Trade Area for the Americas.

Mr Mike Moore, the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will be attending to meet the heads of government. They will no doubt express their reservations about his plan to launch a fresh round of negotiations at the WTO's ministerial meeting in Qatar in November.

The heads will probably find some time to discuss the Caricom observer mission to next month's election in Guyana, the coming election in St Vincent and the constitutional impasse in Trinidad where the weight of legal opinion seems to be that President Robinson has exceeded his powers in refusing to appoint seven government nominees to the Senate. Two of them have filed summonses seeking a ruling as to whether they are entitled to be appointed senators and government ministers.

The heads will discuss tourism and a request by the government of St Lucia to hold a special consultation on tourism development, increasingly seen as a vital part of the region's economy. They will receive a report on the establishment of a Caribbean monetary union.

It has been clear for some time that without a concrete plan of action and an increased sense of urgency Caricom will be overtaken by other events. Hopefully Prime Minister Owen Arthur, without any doubt the most regionally focused of the heads of government, can spur his colleagues to share the perspective he clearly has.

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