Thirteenth COTED meeting
Ministers urged to fast track single market
Stabroek News
May 28, 2002

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Jamaica's Foreign Trade Minister K.D. Knight yesterday called on his CARICOM colleagues on the Council on Trade and Economic Development (COTED) to define and pursue effective strategies to advance their national and regional interests and to employ all the resources at their disposal to do so.

Knight made his call against the background of what he described as "the challenging array of international negotiating processes that require us to strategise and chart a course of action through increasingly choppy negotiating waters."

The Jamaican minister is chairing the thirteenth meeting of the council, which opened yesterday morning at Le Meridien Pegasus. He took over the chair from Guyana's Foreign Trade Minister, Clement Rohee. Rohee is the CARICOM spokesman at the negotiating process at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"We are at the point where decisive steps must be taken, and quickly to see the effective implementation of the CSME [CARICOM Single Market and Economy] in accordance with the Treaty of Chaguaramas and far reaching decisions of our Heads of Government at the Thirteenth Intersessional in Belize."

The negotiating processes to which Knight referred are those related to the Free Trade Areas of the Americas, the African, Caribbean and Pacific/European Union (ACP/EU) process, and the WTO.

Other external economic activities to which the council is giving attention are the World Food Summit in June, the World Summit on Sustainable Development from August 26 to September 4, and a number of other international negotiating sessions between now and September.

Speaking earlier, CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington described the COTED meeting as timely "as for small developing states, like ours, the outcome of these encounters in the international community are of particular importance and our preparations must be therefore focused so as to get the maximum possible benefits."

About the council's approach to the CSME, Knight said they all recognised that "time is of the essence" and stressed the need for member states to "take serious steps to comply with the timetable for the removal of all restrictions and take action on other vital aspects of the CSME process.

"I need not stress how crucial it is that we get the CSME process right and get it right quickly - it is the foundation from which we must approach the external negotiating process and must become the bedrock of our agenda."

The Belize Intersessional accepted a COTED recommendation setting December 31, 2005 as the outside deadline for the removal of the restrictions with the expectation that the vast majority would be removed by December 2003.

Carrington reminded the council that the community had set the CSME "as the core element in its response to globalisation and its attendant challenges."

Commenting on the FTAA negotiations, which he described as moving into high gear, Knight observed that they have had to confront serious challenges "and the signals are clear that the battle for recognition of our interests as small economies is far from over.

"The obstacles are great. We must therefore take carefully into account the update on this process and deliberations on the way forward."

About the ACP/EU process, which he described as "looming large," Knight noted that the "post-Cotonou process is one that is of vital importance to all of us" and that "the challenge for us is to ensure that the relationship, when transformed, continues to benefit the region and accommodates special interests."

On the WTO agenda, Knight observed that it "is a constant challenge" as "global trade measures both those now in place and those ahead of us have life altering consequences some of which have already come home to roost. Many of our key sectors have been touched by the long arm of the WTO."

As a consequence, the COTED chairman said that the guiding principle of their discussions and fundamental instruction to their representatives and negotiators must be to "make the framework one that facilitates growth and progress for the peoples of the Caribbean, a system that brings hope, and not a threat to their well-being."

Speaking about the other agenda items before the meeting, Knight said that they had to look at, among other things, the enhanced trade arrangements with Central America and Canada and the need to ensure coherence and consistency in the community's positions in all the negotiating theatres and how to employ its limited resources to maximum effect.

Both Knight and Carrington remarked on the participation of the private sector at level of the officials and at the ministerial level.

Carrington noted the private sector recommendation that the CSME implementation schedules should be advanced and its willingness to do whatever it could to assist in the achievement of the revised deadlines.

The recommendation was made at the Caribbean Transnational Conference last month in Montego Bay and Carrington recalled two other recommendations from that forum that should be implemented without any further delay. They are "the speeding up of the process of accreditation and the resulting free movement of skilled/professional workers and a more structured relationship between the COTED and the private sector to allow for ongoing dialogue."

Knight, noting the involvement of the private sector and civil society, called it a "significant development," which "augurs well for use as we face the challenges ahead."

He said the council needed to respond to the strong message from the regional private sector in a positive way. "At the end of this meeting and after they must feel reassured that we in the public sector not only agree with them, but with them as our constant and willing partners - that is a commitment!"