OECS officials seek to facilitate ease of travel

CASTRIES, St Lucia — Chief immigration officers and comptrollers of customs from across the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) recently met in St Vincent and the Grenadines for working session geared towards implementing an action plan developed in January 2013 to facilitate ease of travel not only for OECS citizens but also for visitors to the OECS region.

Since the January meeting, the OECS Council of Tourism Ministers approved the action areas proposed at the first workshop, to facilitate ease of travel within the OECS, which include: full clearance of travelers only at the initial port of entry; harmonisation of procedures to collect departure taxes; enhanced compatibility of software for information sharing; and harmonisation of standard operating procedures and improvements to service quality at OECS borders.

Upon request by ministers for tourism, the OECS Secretariat submitted a brief on the decisions to ministers, for consideration of their respective national cabinets. So far, the ministers for tourism in St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada have reported that cabinets in these two member states had approved the decisions and actions related to ease of travel in the OECS region.

Dr Loraine Nicholas programme officer in the OECS Secretariat’s Economic Affairs Division says the recent workshop in St Vincent from September 11-12, 2013, focused on providing definitive advice to the relevant ministerial councils, on any changes necessary, whether in respect of legislation, regulations, administrative practice, infrastructure or otherwise, to operationalise the actions that have been agreed at the technical level or political level.

Nicholas discussed some of the changes proposed at the workshop including the reconfiguration of infrastructure and facilities at airports.

Some of the changes proposed at the workshop include the reconfiguration of infrastructure and facilities at airports. In addition to immigration checkpoints there should also be separate gates or channels for intra-regional travelers to distinguish them from other categories of visitors. It was also suggested that the regulations for immigration and customs should be harmonised due to variations that currently exist across the region relating to areas such as accompanied baggage allowances and maximum currency allowances.

The OECS Secretariat also committed to coordinating a regional training programme for border control officers in the final quarter of this year. The training will cover areas such as customer service, good practices and standard operating procedures. It is intended that this training would provide a basis for the development of a training manual for border control officers in the OECS.

Support from the European Union in facilitating ease of travel across OECS member states is being provided under the project Economic Integration and Trade of the OECS Region. That project, administered by the OECS Secretariat, is financed out of resources from the 10th EDF regional programme, and seeks to contribute to the establishment of the OECS Economic Union as a single economic and financial space through the development of a harmonized policy, legislative, regulatory and administrative framework, as well as the enhancement of the institutional capacity and export competitiveness of OECS economies.

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