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Agriculture and related issues of trade, standards, and external economic relations were the highlight of the just concluded Sixth Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) at the Caribbean Community CARICOM Secretariat Headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana, on 4-5 June 1999.

Among other items discussed at the meeting were the nine Protocols revising the Treaty of Chaguaramas by the end of 1999; the phased reduction of the Common External Tariff (CET) and the recommendations regarding the trade elements and conditions of Haiti’s entry into the Community, to go before the next meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government in Trinidad and Tobago in July.

Under the new institutional arrangements, this COTED meeting reviewed the economic development of the Community and the agreement reached by Heads of Government in 1996 on the Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture (RTP). One of the main objectives of the RTP is to place the agricultural sector on a business footing.

This would require the implementation of measures, such as standards, which is critical not only for the benefit of consumers, but also to enhance competitiveness of enterprises. Although the programme for competitiveness which was mandated by The Conference has been developed, implementation has not yet commenced.

Work has also begun on the design of a Marketing Information System which would boost agribusiness, marketing, and launch an intelligence network to improve agribusiness.

With regard to trade in goods, except agricultural products, the Ministers saw the implementation of the phased reduction of the Common External Tariff (CET) to an agreed maximum level of 20 percent, as a good sign of progress made in this area.

In considering this item, the Ministers received notice that at its next meeting, they will receive a proposal to transform the current Caribbean Common Market Standards Council into the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality. The report received by the Ministers said this is key to the acceleration of the development and maintenance of harmonised CARICOM standards.

At this meeting, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) announced a series of activities that are planned for the Caribbean Week of Agriculture scheduled from 5 July next. The week’s programme begins with the first meeting of Caribbean Wives of Heads of Government /Heads of State on 5-7 July. An Agribusiness Conference is billed for 8-9 July, following the visit of a CARICOM team to Chile to gain first hand knowledge of the operations of that country’s agribusiness activity and ultimately to foster increased agribusiness growth in the Caribbean.

A Caribbean Food Festival on July 10 is also on the agenda, featuring the promotion of contemporary Caribbean cuisine in a festival and cultural setting.

The meeting of COTED looked at the progress, made in the completion of the protocols amending the Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community since its last meeting in January 1999.

Every effort is being made to ensure the completion of all nine Protocols, with Protocols I and II signed by all Member States and provisionally operational. Protocols III, on Industrial Policy and V, on Agricultural Policy have not yet been signed by all Member States. The Ministers were informed that the Inter-Governmental Task Force had completed Protocol IV, on Trade Policy and Protocol VII, on Disadvantaged Countries, Regions and Sectors, had both been sent to CARICOM Attorneys General for a legal review. So far, seven of the nine Protocols amending the Treaty, to facilitate the establishment of the Single Market and Economy, have been completed. Protocols IX, on the Rules of Competition and VIII, on Disputes Settlement are still being worked on by the Inter-Governmental Task Force. Member States agreed to take all reasonable steps to pull ahead with the full implementation of Protocol II.

Consideration was also given to the role of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) in providing the support to increase production and increase competitiveness both intraregionally as well as on international markets.

The Ministers responsible for Trade and Economic Development were concerned that a US$39 million Competition Project was not being supported by the donor community, with the urgency which the situation forced by CARICOM industries require. So far, CARICOM has submitted a project worth some US $14.170 million to donors for funding. COTED wanted to see an early start of implementation of the programme and asked that the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) be approached to look into the problem of financing.

COTED also tackled the areas of Free Movement of Persons and Skills and the implementation of the CARICOM Agreement for Transfer of Social Benefits. The meeting encouraged Member States to work faster to complete the legislation and administrative measures, to enable the benefits to reach CARICOM nationals.

Among the agenda items that were discussed under External Relations, Haiti was the major issue. Critical progress has been made in the negotiations between CARICOM and Haiti on the area of exemptions from CARICOM obligations which Haiti should enjoy as part of its Terms and Conditions of Accession. The meeting further discussed the status of the Free Trade Agreement with the Dominican Republic.

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