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Mr. President of the St. Vincent Chamber of Industry and Commerce;
Members of the Chamber;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this evening on the occasion of the Annual President’s Dinner of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

You will be aware, I am sure, that the Community has just completed its 21st Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government on the small but beautiful and peaceful Grenadine Island of Canouan. It was a real pleasure to be able to deliberate on Community matters in such soothing surroundings. I am happy that your kind invitation has permitted me a further opportunity to enjoy the beauty of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Vincentian hospitality.

Mr. Chairman, I am reliably informed that this Annual Dinner usually follows very closely on your Annual General Meeting. Knowing that the AGM took place on 13 April this year [2000], I am grateful that you have found it possible to delay this special occasion to allow me to address you. I only hope that your soup has not grown too cold in the interim.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to address you on the subject of “Economic Integration”. I daresay that there are few issues more relevant to the Community and its development in This Year of Our Lord, 2000.

The Community today sits on the cusp of a new beginning – a new era in the lives and times of its peoples. In this the year 2000, we hope to finally realise the goal that was set by our Heads of Government at Grande Anse, Grenada, in 1989 to create a Single Market and Economy, a virtual single economic space across the entire Community.

In this the year 2000, we hope to finally have all elements in place to permit all the factors of production – goods, services, capital and labour – to move freely across member states, providing efficient and competitive production of goods and services, for both regional and international markets. This is vital if the Region is to survive in this new globalised world economy.

This evening, instead of giving you a history of the process of by which the Community arrived at its present juncture, I believe it would be more useful for you to get a picture of the Community in action and indeed, the Community as it emerges from the recent 21st Meeting of the Heads of Government Conference. I will therefore say a few words on how some of the issues dealt with at that meeting have implications for the private sector, and will be inviting other members of my staff who are here with us tonight, to link developments in their special area to the private sector interests, as the Community now stands, and seems set to advance.

To locate my comments in the overall presentation, I think it would be useful to give you a quick overview of the structures of governance of the Community with which the private sector would need to interact if it is to play its effective role in the Region’s development.

To establish the Single Market and Economy, the Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing CARICOM had to be revised. This revision resulted in nine (9) Protocols, the first of which provided for a new structure of governance of the Community. That structure re-establishes the Heads of Government Conference as the supreme organ of the Community and the Community Council of Ministers, the other principal organ, as the second highest body “with responsibility for Community strategic planning and co-ordination in the areas of economic integration, functional co-operation and external relations”.

The Heads of Government Conference and the Community Council of Ministers, as the two principal organs of the community, are assisted by four (4) specialised Ministerial Councils: the Council for Trade and Economic Development, the Council for Finance and Planning, the Council for Human and Social Development, and the Council for Foreign and Community Relations – the responsibility of each being evident from their nomenclature.

To support these organs, there are three (3) subsidiary bodies: the Committee of Central Bank Governors, the Budget Committee, and the Legal Affairs Committee. Providing the administrative and technical support for the entire structure is the CARICOM Secretariat. Heads of Government have also recently established a temporary body to undertake external negotiations, that is the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM).

In all these structures, attention has to be paid to the views of civil society, including the private sector. The great difficulty however, is that there are no adequate structures to systematically provide for that consultation. Perhaps we need to look at the European experience where an Economic and Social Committee is an integral part of the structures of governance of the European union. As promised, I now turn to the recent concluded Meeting of the Heads of Government Conference and some implications for the private sector.

Many of the issues dealt with by Heads of Government at their just concluded 21st Meeting, carry great importance for the private sector. First of all, the general tenor of the opening statements from that of Secretary-General through to that of the Chairman, dealt in some degree with the importance of the principle of inclusiveness and particularly with the need for the involvement of the wider civil society. Within that broad net, the private sector has an important place.

Of historic importance at the Meeting was the signing of the. I need not stress the importance of preferential access to the eleven (11) million inhabitants market that is Cuba. I however also need not stress the peculiarities and difficulties which the private sector will face in exploiting that opportunity.

More familiar, and perhaps for that reason a little less difficult to exploit, are the opportunities provided by the EU/ACP Partnership Agreement signed in Benin on 23 June, and the United States Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act recently passed by the US Congress.

These two Agreements give our business community access to the world’s two largest markets – the EU and the USA. Also, in the case of the EU-ACP Partnership Agreement, special arrangements have been introduced to strengthen the participation of the private sector, including a two (2) billion euro private sector financing facility.

But among the issues considered by Heads of Government, it was not trade agreements alone which were of direct interest to the private sector. Some of the apparently “political” issues carry important potential benefits for the private sector. Two of these, among the most difficult dealt with at the Conference, viz., the Guyana-Suriname border relations issue and the political and electoral developments in Haiti, are cases in point.

Now, you may say, what can these two issues conceivably have to do with the private sector? A lot.

First of all, it is the private sector – the Canadian oil drilling firm CGX – that is intimately involved in the dispute between Guyana and Suriname in the drilling for oil. More relevantly from your point of view, but very much for the future, is the tremendous improvement in the economic prospects for both sides which the prospective oil find can make. What that would do for future business prospects in the entire Region, and not just in the two countries, can be phenomenal. Perhaps its tremendous importance is one of the reasons why it has not yet been fully resolved!

In the case of Haiti, despite its generally low economic standard, its large population (greater than that of the rest of CARICOM combined) makes it a very valuable market for certain products. Moreover, if Haiti were to overcome its electoral problems there are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid waiting to be released, making Haiti an important market for services as well – and especially so from suppliers in the Caribbean.

The resolution of the political and electoral situation is, however, vital to permit a duly elected Haitian Parliament to ratify the terms of Haiti’s accession to CARICOM. Without that, the Haitian market, and with it the private sector opportunities therein, would not be available to the regional private sector on CARICOM terms.

So while these two key issues figured in the agenda and in the media etcetera as political issues, they carry important economic possibilities and future private sector opportunities.

The action being taken by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – the OECD – against offshore financial sectors of a large number of countries, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and a number of other CARICOM countries, risk destroying the Region’s entire offshore financial sector, and with it, significant private sector opportunities. Though much of this relates to foreign capital, this sector provides great economic benefit to many of our economies, impacting on our own local private sector.

But the meeting was not simply case of politicians and bureaucrats discussing matters of importance for the private sector. The private sector itself was very much there. The CAIC (like the CCL and the CPDC (NGOs)) made its regular annual presentation to the Heads of Government which was very well received. I hope we can make copies of the presentation available to you for you to see that the private sector had a direct voice at the highest table of the Community.

Following therefrom, a critical decision was taken by the Conference to have a Special Meeting of the Bureau of the Heads of Government and the private sector, through the CAIC, to discuss in much greater detail the proposals of the CAIC. So there you have it, Ladies and Gentlemen, greater inclusiveness as called for at the very opening of the Conference, more direct involvement of the private sector in the Community’s operations.

However, to truly exploit this opportunity, especially to influence the Community’s future development, you, the private sector, have to better organise yourselves, provide yourselves with greater technical capacity, and recognise that while the public sector is working with you with you and taking the lead in creating the framework, it is you who have to take the lead in exploiting the opportunities created.

I tonight commend the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Chamber of Industry and Commerce for doing just that. Do keep it up, and I promise you that the staff of the CARICOM Secretariat would be all too willing and ready, as indeed they are tonight, to work with you in pursuit of your goals.

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