(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) When Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ministers responsible for trade meet in Georgetown at week’s end, a major undertaking will be charting the strategic direction of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
The traditional two-day year-end regular Meeting of the COTED will be split to allow for the day-long meeting of Ministers on Friday to consider the direction the Council should pursue in the current economic environment, with particular emphasis on the prioritization of its agenda for growth and development. How the Council approaches its decision-making and the general operation of the body will also come under focus.
Ministers will tackle the trade agenda on Saturday. Among the range of matters for consideration are the implications of the recent Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) decision in the Shanique Myrie case on Community relations; the recognition of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Economic Union in the Revised Treaty, progress on the CARICOM-Canada Trade and Development Agreement, trade in goods, and the consolidation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
During the special session on Friday, Ministers are expected to consider a more structured framework for the greater involvement of the Region’s private sector, the enabling environment created by the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), and boosting competitive production.
The meeting follows consistent calls by chairpersons and delegates to successive meetings of the COTED for a change in the way the Council conducted its business. In acknowledging the necessity for change, stakeholders often cited recurring, unresolved agenda items and the length of time it took for some decisions to be carried to fruition. At its Thirty-Third Regular Meeting last year, the COTED agreed that there needed to be a special session dedicated to examining its strategic focus based on priorities identified by the Heads of Government for the Community and the implications of the global environment in achieving strategic objectives.
One of the calls for change was made earlier this year, in March, when the then Chairman of COTED, the Honourable Oliver Joseph, Minister of Economic Development, Planning, Trade and Cooperatives of Grenada called for the advancing of the work of the Council to send a signal to stakeholders, particularly the private sector, that the COTED was both concerned and responsive.
Last year also, at the Thirty-Fourth Meeting of COTED, then Chairman Dr. the Honourable John Collin McIntyre, Minister of Trade, Industry, Consumer and Diaspora Affairs of Dominica told delegates that it was time that there was agreement “to approach our work in the most direct manner, going to the heart of the issues brought before us for discussion and decision-making”.
Senator the Honourable Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados had indicated in 2011 at the Thirty-Third COTED Meeting that there was need for a more efficient way to conduct business. As Chair of the Meeting, she was of the view that it was an opportune time for the COTED to review its performance, including its method of work, and to strategize on its direction for the next few years, taking into account the current global economic reality.
Back in 2010, Senator the Honourable Joanne Massiah, Minister of State, Ministry of Legal Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda, had called on the COTED to forge a structured framework for engaging the Region’s private sector; to establish policy framework, and drive programmes to improve the sustainable development of Member States of CARICOM. “The way we conduct business must change according to the challenging milieu we operate in. Let us cloak ourselves in transparency and good governance in the conduct of our affairs,” she urged her colleagues at that Meeting.
The interventions were reinforced by CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, who pointed to the need for a review of the operations of the Council to ensure it was more strategic in its outlook. There was an economic cost to the time consumed in rehashing issues without resolution, and it was fuelling frustration, he said.
COTED’s mandates are set out in detail in the Revised Treaty and cover a range of inter-related issues. Article 15 of the Revised Treaty states that COTED’s main responsibility is to promote the trade and economic development of the Community. At the top of the list of specific duties is ensuring the development and proper functioning of the CSME.
The Council has responsibility for a range of sectoral issues, including agricultural and industrial development, development of services in general, transportation, tourism, energy and natural resources, science and technology, and environmental management and sustainable development. Some of these issues receive regular attention by way of special sessions of COTED such as the upcoming Special COTED on Information Communication Technologies (ICTs), and was the case recently with the Special COTED on Agriculture.
The COTED introspection coincides with the reform process being undertaken by the Community including a review of the operations of the CARICOM Secretariat and Community institutions.