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2015: A year of great importance

 This past year has demonstrated in no uncertain terms the value of the Caribbean regional integration project to our Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the influence that our united front can wield in the international arena.


On the international scene, this was a year of great importance to the region. In this regard, CARICOM played an important role in the global community in many areas by adopting common positions and taking them forward together. The importance of this unity was never more apparent than when the world grappled with issues of critical importance to the Community and other Small Island and Low-lying Coastal Developing States (SIDS). The outcome of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), the Paris Agreement, has given us hope that we can confront this existential challenge. Our Region was united on this issue and we can be proud of what we achieved in Paris for SIDS.


The COP 21 was the third in the series of international conferences held this year, all of which were pertinent to advancing the development of the Community. The others, Financing for Development and the UN Post 2015 Development Agenda, which set out the Sustainable Development Goals, addressed solutions to the issues which our Member States face. We also joined the other members of the international community in celebrating the United Nations’ 70th Anniversary.


Advocacy of our positions formed the major elements of our discussions during this year at the highest levels of Government with the United States, France, Costa Rica and Panama and the United Nations Secretary-General, among others.


Indeed, we held a ground breaking event in Barbados last July, at the opening of the 36 Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government, under the theme “CARICOM – Vibrant Societies, Resilient Economies: A Partnership for Implementation.”  This brought together major international institutions, and leaders such as the United Nations Secretary General, to have a dialogue with CARICOM Heads of Government on co-operative approaches in dealing with the issues affecting our Member States.  Discussions were aimed at finding options to stimulate growth and reduce the crushing debt burden being carried by many of our Member States, as we are convinced that fostering growth and relief of the debt burden will assist in boosting employment and maintaining and improving the standard of living of our citizens.


Within the region, in pursuing our priorities, we have been examining ways and means to stimulate economic growth by, among other things, identifying economic sectors in which we have a competitive advantage. One of the key sectors identified in that regard is that of the creative industries, which is also seen as an avenue for employment, particularly among our youth. The sector received a fillip with the extraordinary success of our regional exposition of creativity, CARIFESTA, the 12th edition of which was held in Haiti earlier this year.  It proved to be an excellent platform to demonstrate once again that unleashing our collective creative talents and skills could provide a significant economic boost to our economies.  Barbados looks forward to welcoming you to the 13th edition of CARIFESTA to be held in Barbados in 2017.


To support regional competitiveness, we have identified the abundant potential of our renewable energy- given our natural endowments of sun, wind and geo-thermal resources- to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  To expedite the use of these resources, we have established the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) as the implementation hub for sustainable energy activities and projects within the Region. The connection between this Centre and the quotidian demands of life on the region’s citizens is clear: lower cost and sustainable energy sources will reduce the cost of living and enhance the sustainability of our economies and societies. The CCREEE’s work is thus expected to have a direct impact on the lives of Caribbean people today and tomorrow.


Our achievements during this year have been noteworthy. We are continuing to improve the operations of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) which remains the best option to promote growth and bring prosperity to our Community. This fact has been underlined both in the Community Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and by the work of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy. That Commission has submitted proposals with respect to growth and the relief of the debt burden which is hindering the progress of our Member States towards sustainable development and full achievement of the goals of the CSME. One of their prime proposals, a Debt Advocate to solicit support to ease the burden, has attracted interest and is expected to come on stream in the near future.


Member States also have begun gradually rolling out the CSME Application Processing System (CAPS) which is intended to transform the manner in which our skilled nationals obtain their skill certificates, moving from a paper-based system into an electronic one.  It automates the processes to allow for quicker, more efficient processing of applications, while generating much needed data which will assist Member States in formulating policies related to free movement of skilled nationals.


During the second half of the year, our sister country of Dominica was devastated by Hurricane Erika. In the face of this tragic manifestation of climate change, the Community was resolute in the support it provided Dominica, with regional institutions such as the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the Regional Security System leading the way, and with Member States providing valuable assistance in several forms.

The Commission on Human Resource Development has begun its work aimed at shaping a Regional Education and Human Resource Development 2030 Strategy.  In the coming year, it will broaden its reach through consultations in Member States.


As we look towards the future, we are also taking the opportunity to probe our past. The CARICOM Reparations Commission, working in the context of the International Decade for Peoples of African Descent, is doing important work to help us understand our own history and spread a common understanding of this issue internationally.


In November, as the year came to a close, we celebrated the election of the second CARICOM national and first woman to be elected as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.  The election of Patricia Scotland of Dominica promises a new era for the Commonwealth and for the Caribbean Community within that organisation.


The year 2015 tested our resolve, but this Community has shown time and again that it has the wherewithal not only to withstand challenges but also to provide solutions to whatever problems arise.  The basis of its strength is its collective force and it is that which we must use as we continue the efforts to build a secure, principled, viable and sustainable Community for all of our citizens. There will always be challenges to any venture that shapes human lives, especially when undertaken by resource poor countries. But the indomitable spirit of CARICOM countries, individually and collectively, will take us forward. 


2016 will be a year in which, amongst other things, many of us will be reflecting on and celebrating important national milestones:  two of our member states (Barbados and Guyana) will be celebrating 50 years of independence, and two more (Antigua and Barbuda and Belize) will be celebrating 35 years of independence! Let us celebrate the richness of the Caribbean civilization with each advancing year of our status as independent nations!


We are now at the end of a tumultuous year, 2015, and stand on the threshold of 2016, with all that it promises. The Secretary General of CARICOM and his staff, as well as CARICOM’s functional cooperation agencies across our region, are deserving of our gratitude for their sterling contribution during the year. I extend my best wishes to the CARICOM Secretariat, and to the Governments and people of all CARICOM member countries, for a blessed and peaceful holiday season and for God’s guidance in the coming year.





Freundel J. Stuart, Q.C., M.P.

Prime Minister of Barbados and

Chairman of the Conference of

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community

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