May I welcome you all to this Forty-Fourth Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). I bid a special welcome to the Chairman, the Honourable Ferdinand Welzijn, who is attending his First Meeting. Minister, this Council looks forward to your contribution to its deliberations and I wish you all success in your role as Chair of the COTED.
This Meeting of the Council comes as our Member States continue to seek ways to enhance growth. The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) has indicated in its annual review, that several countries experienced lower rates of growth in 2016, than had been the case in the three previous years.
Our Heads of Government, in their various decisions and declarations have committed to deepening regional economic integration, through the CSME, in order to achieve sustained economic development, based on international competitiveness. The CSME is the foundation for spurring vibrant regional growth and development.
Perhaps, therefore, it is timely once again to remind ourselves of the role of this Council. The COTED is responsible for the promotion of trade and economic development of our Community. In particular, it is required to oversee the development, operation and implementation of the CSME.
Quite appropriately, the Agenda of this Meeting continues to emphasise the need for consolidation and further development of the CSME.
The Conference of Heads of Government has been reviewing the CSME, and noted the significant progress in its implementation, particularly with respect to the legal and institutional measures and mechanisms to support the free movement of goods, services, skills, and cross-border establishment of businesses.
Our leaders, however expressed concern that some of their decisions had not been complied with. They lamented the fact that some of our Organs and Bodies have failed to meet, to consider critical aspects of the CSME. And items remain much too long on the agenda of the Councils. They also recognised the need for effective consultative mechanisms and addressing capacity constraints at the national level.
Their observations come against the backdrop of the slow pace in addressing some of the elements of the CSME. We have been discussing issues such as Government Procurement and basic contingent rights for a decade or more without concluding on the matter. And there are aspects of the free movement of skills regime and market access for specific products that require urgent decision.
Even as the Council seeks to address those issues, it faces the challenge of non-compliance with its decisions. The basis of our integration movement is its rules-based nature. Therefore, failure to adhere to the rules, which includes compliance with decisions, poses a threat to the credibility of our Community.
The onus is on COTED to make the required decisions, determine the actions to be taken to fulfil the obligations, and agree on timelines for implementation which we must adhere to.
Yes, we have done a lot, but we must do better.
The private sector is asking us to do better.
The people of the Region are asking us to do better
You can send a clear signal of your determination to make that difference by reaching agreement on the Regional Policy for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. It is an opportunity to open the way for the small entrepreneur to benefit from our Single Market.
The consolidation and advancement of the CSME, apart from its role of enhancing intra-regional trade and economic growth, will also serve as the springboard for seizing our external trade opportunities. It is important that this Council gives deep consideration to the various international developments that have taken place in recent times, which will have an effect on our major external trading relationships.
One of these is the decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union (Brexit). Both parties are among our major trading partners. This Council will need to take a decision which would allow us to seek, at a minimum, to ensure that our existing market access to the UK continues after the Brexit process is complete. This is important given that the UK market absorbs approximately 22 percent of our overall exports to the EU.
Given the global developments, it would be fitting for the Region to reassess the overall orientation of its external trade. The development of new relationships and increasing utilisation of our existing trade agreements assume even greater importance.
The Community is party to a number of trade agreements, some of which have not been regularly serviced in recent years. Negotiations have, however, been held with Cuba and the Dominican Republic in recent months to enhance these trade agreements. A decision will have to be taken on how to address the Region’s other trade agreements and negotiations, along with the resources that should be dedicated to doing so.
As we seek to maximise trade opportunities both domestically and internationally, the provision and analysis of relevant data is an important element. COTED has been provided with a review of the performance of intra-regional trade in goods. This is an essential exercise. It must be expanded to include our external trade. And it must become a regular feature of the COTED agenda.
The Member States must assist in this regard by timely provision of the relevant trade data to the Secretariat in order for a thorough analysis to be provided so that it becomes even more meaningful as a tool for decision-making.
Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Heads of Delegations, it is clear that the COTED has a substantial agenda ahead of it over the next two days. We must demonstrate the will to resolve the outstanding issues before us. It can be done. Let us ensure that our discussions succeed in further advancing the Community’s integration agenda.