(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Commit to tough decisions, and follow through on them. That was the challenge thrown out by the Honourable Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Guyana and Chair of the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED), on Friday.
Delivering the address at the opening of the Special Session on the Strategic Direction of the Council at the Princess International Hotel, Providence, Guyana, the Minister said that the acceleration of implementation was the most important element of what had to be done within the Community if CARICOM were to succeed.
COTED, she said, should initiate critical change, with maximum haste, since a significant amount of the mandate of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) devolved around the COTED.
Pointing out that the only direction for CARICOM “is forward”, Minister Rodrigues-Birkett said the special session should ponder how COTED could be a change driver.
The Council, she advised her colleagues, should harness the ideas and input of Caribbean public in its policy-making and implementation processes. She made a special call for the engagement of the private sector as the engine of growth, jobs and innovation, even as she encouraged regional businesses to organise themselves for structured dialogue with the Community. She also sounded the call for an energised external trade policy and expanded opportunities in South America and deepen trade and investment relations with ACP partners.
The youth, universities and technical colleges should also be engaged, the Minister said, and added that the media partnership should be strengthened to regroup and rebuild the regional integration message.
“We have to make adjustments to our mode of operation if we are to achieve these goals,” she said.
Also at the opening session, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, CARICOM Secretary-General addressed COTED’s role in the Community’s change agenda. The Special Session, he said, was set against the background of a quest for innovative ideas to drive the progress of the integration movement.
“After forty years, our integration movement continues to endure, giving us cause for celebration in the midst of our reflection and introspection. And as any organisation which wishes to remain relevant to its members, we are engaged in seeking ways to improve the way we do business,” Ambassador LaRocque said
A rigorous session on the strategic direction of the Council, he said, would be of inestimable value to both the reform process currently underway in the Community as well as to the future operations of COTED.
“COTED’s agenda and deliberations must be more strategic as they seek to address the challenges faced by our Member States. And the work of the Preparatory Meeting of the COTED must be such as to allow the Ministers space for strategic deliberation,” he told the Meeting. He added that the role of institutions that relate to COTED was equally important as they were an integral part of the integration architecture and were established to facilitate economic and trading arrangements.
Minister Rodrigues-Birkett and Secretary-General LaRocque were of one accord on the role of the private sector, and the haste with which change had to be effected. Ambassador LaRocque wants the session to devise a mechanism to bring the regional private sector to the table, since it is that sector that produces and trades.
“Honourable Ministers, the pillar of economic integration rests largely on the shoulders of the COTED and, as you deliberate on forging a strategy for the future operations of this Council and seek answers to boost our growth and development, there is an urgency which must infuse your deliberations,” the Secretary-General said.
The traditional two-day year-end regular Meeting of the COTED was split to allow for the day-long strategic session on Friday as well as the COTED Ministerial on Saturday.