President proposes new thrust for CARICOM By Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
July 4, 2002

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THE 23rd Summit of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) opened yesterday afternoon with incoming Chairman President Bharrat Jagdeo urging his colleagues that, as they brainstorm the conference agenda, they should resist any urge to diminish the significance, implications and benefits of the progress which has been recorded as a Community.

Similarly, they should also, with equal vigour, combat any sentiments serving to impair their vision or reduce their resolve, he said.

The Guyana Head of State also proposed that the reach of CARICOM be projected beyond its geographic confines, positing that it can be achieved by the region's diaspora in the North. He added that Belize has opened possibilities in Central America and Guyana and Suriname can do likewise in South America.

Mr. Jagdeo said both Guyana and Suriname have vast economic territory that remains largely unchartered and offers many tantalising opportunities to CARICOM countries.

And, because of their strategic location on the shoulder of the sub-continent, the two countries can serve as an important gateway for the Community's trade and economic relations with countries in the southern hemisphere, he said.

CARICOM must, however, be assured that any such initiative poses no threat to their interests, but rather add to the collective benefit of the Community, the President said.

Other proposals which President Jagdeo, who has assumed the chair for six months taking over from outgoing Chairman Prime Minister Said Musa of Belize, said the Caribbean Community could focus on in the near future are, the formulation of a Common Agricultural Policy; creation of multilateral regimes; a review of regional institutions; a common approach to the problems of crime and security in the region; the strengthening of democracy in the region; greater involvement of a non-partisan, accountable Civil Society in the activities of the Community and the promotion of a larger Caribbean sphere of influence and support.

Regarding the proposed Common Agricultural Policy, President Jagdeo, who also holds the responsibility in CARICOM for Agriculture, said he intends to build on the past efforts to achieve the goal.

He contended that the Regional Transformation Policy on Agriculture has its limitations and most of the studies done in that discipline served merely to guide the region's external trade negotiations.

"It is not enough for the full development of our agriculture sector from a productive perspective. More that anything else, at this stage, we need a policy and strategy which will allow us to decide on what sort of institutions and mechanisms are needed to achieve this goal," President Jagdeo added.

Earlier, President Jagdeo commenced his presentation by welcoming his colleague Heads to what he said was an "historic" occasion, pointing that his use of "historic" has a two-fold significance in that CARICOM is celebrating its 29th year of existence as a Caribbean family, in addition to embracing the Republic of Haiti as the 15th member state of CARICOM whose President Jean Bertrand-Aristide was at the opening.

Haiti, which he hailed as "a country whose glorious struggle for independence inspired so many others in the hemisphere...", had on Monday deposited its Instrument of Accession.

Also singled out for special welcome were Prime Minister of The Bahamas, Mr. Perry Christie who Chairman of the proceedings, CARICOM Secretary General, Mr. Edwin Carrington, had in his opening remarks described as "the new boy on the block"; Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Patrick Manning, who was welcomed back into the fold, and the CARICOM Triennial Awardee, Dr. Rhoda Reddock.

Acknowledging the important role played by young people in shaping the region's future, President Jagdeo said that perhaps the time has come for CARICOM to establish an annual award to honour and encourage the special contributions of the youth.

And on behalf of the Community, he offered appreciation and thanks to Prime Minister Musa, noting that his active and enlightened leadership had over the past six months when Belize was the Chair, augumented the dynamism of the Community.

In his remarks as outgoing Chairman, Musa gave a perspective and outlook of the achievements during his tenure of the CARICOM integration.

He said that at the outset he had set himself a number of goals which included greater involvement of civil society in decision making.

He noted that globalisation was tightening the poverty trap and urged CARICOM not to let differences exclude participation of Caribbean brothers and sisters in its efforts to advance.

Prime Minister Christie of The Bahamas who noted that CARICOM has undergone substantial changes since its establishment in 1973, added that he believes that CARICOM's establishment over the 30 years has been significant to the growth and development of member states and the region, and should be celebrated by all.

"Our challenge as a new generation of CARICOM leaders, however, is just where do we take CARICOM from here," he said.

Among others who spoke at the opening were Prime Minister Manning and Dr. Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.