By Cathy Lashley
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — As heads of government from across the region prepare to gather in Barbados for their annual summit in two weeks, they will do so with hopes of solving some of the pressing issues that have taken centre stage in recent times.
Leaders are also expected to share their concerns with special guest, United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who will be attending his second Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in recent years.
His presence in Barbados augurs well for increasing the profile of the region. Other guests will be the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela; and outgoing Commonwealth secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma.
Talks are expected to be centred on energy concerns; crime and security; finance; post 2015 development goals; climate change; decision-making in the Community; regional transportation; including LIAT; CARIFESTA; and reparations for native genocide and slavery, among others.
CARICOM has come a long way in fostering integration, since Dr Eric Williams of Trinidad; Norman Manley of Jamaica; Forbes Burnham of Guyana; and Errol Barrow of Barbados met and signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas over 40 years ago on July 4, 1973, in Trinidad and Tobago.
They had one singular vision – to unite Caribbean people and to create a better economic climate that would include enhanced trade and foreign policy coordination and functional cooperation.
In addition, the heads of government made the decision in 1989 to transform the common market into a single market and economy to facilitate internationally competitive production of goods and the provision of services.
The Community‘s objectives are predicated around several key pillars. They are: improved standards of living and work for its people; accelerated, co-ordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; and having consistent dialogue with third States.
CARICOM is also concerned with creating enhanced levels of international competitiveness; increasing production and productivity; as well as trying to achieve a greater measure of economic leverage.
The upcoming 36th regular meeting of the conference of heads of government of CARICOM will be chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of Barbados. He explained that the Caribbean Community’s journey has been a long but productive one as far as regional integration was concerned.
“The whole objective, of course, was to bring the people of the Caribbean closer together and to deepen the integration of the regional economies,” he said.
He added: “In fact, when the Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed, Dr Eric Williams made it very clear that there cannot be a new dispensation in the Caribbean that does not contemplate the integration of the fragmented economies of the people of the Caribbean, by the people of the Caribbean, for the people of the Caribbean. And, therefore, the whole purpose of CARICOM was to deepen the relationship between the countries, integrating their resources and making it possible to create a better life for the people of the region.”
He asserted that although island states were separated by water, language and culture, among other things, “over the last 40 years, we’ve seen the creation of a whole menu of institutions that have had the effect of getting the people of the Caribbean to know one another better”.
These include the University of The West Indies, the Caribbean Conference of Churches, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute, the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Caribbean Examinations Council, the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology, and the Caribbean Knowledge Learning Network Agency.
Others are the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System, the CARICOM Development Fund, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, the Caribbean Labour Organisation, the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce and the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency.
However, Stuart conceded that there have been some setbacks along the road to integration, adding: “We’re never going to get to a stage where everything in the region and everything in the regional integration movement is functioning perfectly.
“We just have to look at integration movements in other parts of the world – this is a journey; it is not a destination. We will never get to the stage where we can say, ‘Ah, at last, now the labourer’s task is o’er, we have reached the regional integration movement- [and there is] no more work to be done’.
“We’ll be constantly at this, ameliorating situations, removing frictions, and getting things to work as best as they can. We’re not going to get to a stage where there’s something called the regional integration movement that is perfect.”
Consequently, this year’s summit under the theme: CARICOM: Vibrant Societies: Resilient Economies, is greatly anticipated to solidify the dream of the founding fathers and to give the people of the region hope that life will be better for them and generations to come.