Today’s challenge 23rd Summit in Georgetown By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
June 30, 2002

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CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY leaders will start arriving in Georgetown tomorrow, headquarter base of the Community's Secretariat, for their 23rd Heads of Government Conference.

This annual regular summit will be distinguished by two new features since the inauguration of the Caribbean Community and Common Market at Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago in 1973, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Eric Williams, whose pan-Caribbean vision had inspired CARICOM's creation.

The new, if not exactly innovative features of this week's three-day summit, will be: First, a high-level pre-summit Civil Society Consultation on `The Way Forward Together’.

This is scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning, July 2 to conclude by noon on Wednesday in readiness with a set of specific proposals for action for submission to the Heads of Government prior to the ceremonial opening of their conference at Guyana's National Cultural Centre.

The second new and important feature of the 'Georgetown Summit' will be two scheduled presentations at a plenary session (hopefully the media could be accommodated), involving the President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Compton Bourne, (OE) and the Governor of the Basseterre-headquartered Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner.

According to the Secretary General of the Community, Edwin Carrington, currently in his third term as the chief public servant of the region's economic integration movement, the intention is for the CDB's President and the Governor of the ECCB to provide the leaders, ministers and other members of their delegations with as comprehensive an assessment as possible on the problems, progress and challenges facing CARICOM at the start of the 21st century.

The presentations by Bourne and Venner will be as up-to-date as possible in relation to the current international environment and some of the tough and practical responses that would be required, primarily by the region's governments and private sector, with the support and cooperation of the region's labour movement and civil society in general.

While the draft agenda I have obtained points to some ten items, the central focus of the summit will, in fact, be restricted to three major areas.

Three Major Sectors
These will be, unless otherwise changed at their first working plenary on Thursday morning, June 4: `State of the Community’; `CARICOM in the international arena’; and `The Community at 30’.

Therefore, while they will do their "talking" thing, with all the flamboyance and eloquence for which some of them are known, in the end it is what the leaders decide to DO before the close of the conference on Friday evening, July 5, that will determine how seriously they really concentrated on the above-mentioned three central areas of the agenda.

Within the framework of, for instance, the current state of CARICOM, there will be such important matters as the arrangements to be completed for the inauguration of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME)) and the related creation of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Also, the frightening levels of crime plaguing a number of Community states, including host county Guyana. This is to be reviewed for possible common anti-crime actions resulting from the report of a special Task Force on Crime that was established last year when the negative impact of criminality on the vital tourism sector was also considered at a special summit in The Bahamas.

The development of West Indies cricket, recommendations for the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC) - CARICOM's highest honour, with former Prime Minister of St. Lucia, John Compton, being among names mentioned - and Haiti's accession to full membership to the Community, will also be considered in the category of `The State of the Community’.

So far as 'CARICOM in the international arena’ is concerned, a new issue will be how to effectively improve or balance relations with South and Central America with those of North America (USA and Canada). The guiding factor here will, of course, be what's best for the Caribbean region in general.

Action - After Talk
Forthcoming events such as the summit of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) states in Fiji in late July, as well as forthcoming negotiations involving the emerging Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as recommendations arising from the CARICOM-Spain Summit and the subsequent Europe-Latin America and Caribbean Summit are also expected to be addressed as matters of immediate concern to the Community in the international arena.

The third major section of the agenda, 'CARICOM at 30', is when there is expected to be some critical assessments of failures, progress achieved in particular areas, as well as recommendations on the framework for future growth and progress.

The proposals coming out of the pre-summit Civil Society Consultation and recommendations from the mandated review on the future `Structure and Functioning of the Community Secretariat’ will be among some of the unavoidable issues to be faced in considering "the way forward together" for CARICOM.

When it is all over by Friday evening, the Community leaders will then prepare themselves for a day-long retreat with the leader of that Latin American colossus, Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, on Saturday, July 6.

We anxiously await a communique of the 23rd Summit, not filled with a lot of platitudes, but specific proposals and time frames for implementation of decisions.

How President Cardoso intends to be of practical help to the Caribbean in the move to balance this region's best interest between North and South America, naturally also holds much interest as well in what HE will do - after the planned retreat in Guyana's hinterland region.