From the outset I want to thank Minister Baptiste for so graciously accepting to chair this meeting at short notice. Unfortunately our chairman, the Honourable Wilson Laleau of Haiti, could not be here due to the death of someone close to him.
Also I wish to welcome His Excellency Don Tosendjojo, Minister of Trade and Industry of Suriname to his first Meeting of the COTED. Minister you join this Council at a time when it is considering the strategic direction it should take and at a time of reform in the Community itself. Your new voice and views will be most welcome.
And indeed, at this Meeting you will have an ideal opportunity to make your contribution, as the COTED begins to implement one of the key decisions taken at its Special Session on its Strategic Direction. Tomorrow the Council begins the process of seeking to re-engage one of the key stakeholders in our Community, the private sector.
The critical role of the private sector in the regional economy has been a matter of discussion in various fora in CARICOM for some time now. We have long recognized that the full involvement of the private sector was necessary in order to achieve our economic goals. The task is to create a structure that will give the private sector a meaningful role in assisting to set the policy objectives. This type of involvement would certainly increase the likelihood of creating the environment conducive to conducting business and attracting investment, both of which are critical to providing employment and a platform for economic growth.
As you embark on this dialogue some of the key issues that merit attention relate to, among other things:
• Ease of doing business in the CSME;
• Harmonisation of standards and procedures including Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Measures;
• Public Private Partnerships;
• Transportation, including port infrastructure and customs procedures;
• Energy affordability and efficiency;
• The application of Information and Communications Technology; and
• Human Resource Development.
These issues are closely linked to the work of the Commission on the Economy, the Regional Transportation Commission as well as to the Regional Digital Development Strategy. In all of these, the interests of the private sector must be taken into account as it is from within that group, lies the greatest possibility for advancing those various initiatives.
An efficient and productive private sector operating in a favourable business environment will be well placed to take advantage of the opportunities, both within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and in the trade agreements which the Community is party to. We have just concluded a review of our performance under the bilateral free trade agreements with some of our partners which confirms that we are not taking full advantage of market opportunities. A number of recommendations have been advanced which, if implemented, should contribute towards an improved export performance over the medium to long-term.
Negotiations for a CARICOM-Canada Trade and Development Agreement are at a critical stage as we work towards concluding by June 2014. Good progress has been made since the beginning of this year in our negotiations and both Sides are pleased that we have been able to conclude text negotiations, ad referendum, on matters such as Technical Barriers to Trade, Trade Facilitation, Customs Procedures and Transparency in Government Procurement.
This session of the COTED will undertake a thorough assessment of where we are in the negotiations and the flexibilities required to achieve a mutually beneficial agreement. This Agreement must take full account of CARICOM’s development interests, given the differences in size and levels of development between CARICOM and Canada.
Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, engagements such as the one you will have tomorrow signal a transformative phase in regional policy formulation and fits well into the ongoing efforts to reform the Community. We are on the cusp of completing the draft of the Community’s first ever Five-Year Strategic Plan which seeks to identify the strategic priorities we will focus on in the period. That Plan has benefitted from widespread consultation throughout the Community, with Member States, Associate Members, Institutions and various stakeholders and takes into account the critical work being undertaken by the two Commissions.
As I have said repeatedly, prioritisation is essential. We need to focus our attention on a few strategic priorities which would make a difference to our sustainable growth and development. That is the change that the Reform Process seeks to bring.
The Strategic Plan will be presented to Heads of Government at their Regular Meeting in July.
At the Secretariat, the Change Process has begun to take root, as we seek to transform our organisation to make it more effective in meeting the needs of a reformed Community.
Change is nothing new to our Community. We have progressed from a Free Trade Area to a Common Market and now to a Single Market and Economy, and we have done fairly well. We have always sought to position ourselves to adapt to and benefit from the global environment. We have done so in a deliberate, yes, sometimes slow manner which tries to take into account the interests of all our constituent parts. Through every formulation our integration arrangements have become stronger. Let us therefore now embrace this Reform Process at every level and ensure that our Community emerges even stronger and provides our people with a secure, viable and prosperous future. The role of this Council in providing an economic platform for such a future is indispensable. This emphasises the importance of the continued discussion on the strategic role of the COTED.
Mr Chairman, Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, I have no doubt that there will be fruitful deliberations on these and other matters over the next two days and look forward to stimulating discussions.
I thank you.