The Caribbean Regional Economic Conference was held in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, from 27 February to 1 March 1991. The Conference was a unique and historic occasion bringing together for the first time all the social partners – the public sector, the private sector organizations, the labour movement, the Universities, the regional financial organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). All thirteen CARICOM Member States were represented by broad-based delegations – nine of these national delegations led by their Heads of Government. There were observer delegations from six non-CARICOM Caribbean and Latin American countries. In addition, observer delegations came from regional organizations, several international organizations and bilateral institutions. The Conference was open to, and covered by all sections of the media – print, radio and television – in all its phases.
The main objective of the Conference was to begin a dialogue toward a consensus on the policies, strategies and measures which the Region should adopt to move to a higher and sustainable growth path and to improve the quality of life of all the peoples of the Region.
The opening statements described the evolving international panorama, characterised by the globalisation of the world economy, the emergence of mega-trading blocs, the rapid development of technology, the trend towards democratic forms and the recognition of the limited capacity of individual states. They also emphasised the importance of the constricting effect of the debt crisis, the problems associated with energy and the special difficulties being experienced by the vulnerable groups, including women and youth. They stressed the imperative of a co-operative approach among the social partners at national and regional levels to plan and work towards survival and sustainable development.
II. STRATEGIES FOR ECONOMIC REVIVAL AND GROWTH
The Port-of-Spain Consensus recognizes that four broad mutually reinforcing strategies incorporating the efficient use and management of the human and material resources of the region will be needed for economic survival and growth to the Year 2000 and beyond. These strategies, which must be pursued within the framework of a sustainable development model in which human, social, economic and environmental considerations are integrated, are:
- (a) Assignment of the highest priority to human resource development;
- (b) Preservation and enhancement of the democratic traditions and processes, especially through the consultative involvement of all the social partners in policy formulation and implementation;
- (c) Outward looking development strategies alongside measures to enhance the autonomous sources of growth; and
- (d) Enlargement and deepening of regional cooperative arrangements with strong outreach to the wider Caribbean, to Latin America and to the hemisphere as a whole, building on gains already made in collective endeavours with other regions.
III. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The four main pillars previously referred to and upon which Regional Development Strategies will rest are not mutually exclusive and indeed there is a considerable degree of overlap and symbiosis between them.
Human Resources Development
Rationale and Policies for Human Resources Development
Development is for people, therefore, the Development of Human Resources will be assigned the highest priority in Caribbean development strategies. The full realisation of human potential is simultaneously an objective and a requirement of the development process and is the only sure way to ensure that the scourge of unemployment is removed from our societies. At the same time, human resources development is the surest way to achieve growth with equity. To develop human capabilities fully, certain basic needs, such as food, shelter and health, must be met the basic responsibilities of social reproduction shared between both sexes at the level of the household and beyond it by the state and the private sector.
Special mechanisms must be established as a matter of priority to enhance the role which youth, especially those about to enter the labour force, could play in the developmental process.
The creativity and ingenuity of the Caribbean people which are embedded in the Region’s culture, support and enhance the quality of the development process. All the social partners should take active steps to encourage their growth.
The social partners, therefore, unanimously agree that special efforts are needed to raise the degree of awareness at all levels of the society, of the need to attain the highest educational quality, to expand the quality of education and training at all levels, particularly in science, technology and management, and to expand the access of a much greater proportion of the population to secondary and tertiary education. They are committed to a strong regional university system supported by governments, business, the labour movement, university alumni, and individual members of the regional community. International donors are urged to assist in the realization of this objective.
The business sector and the labour movement also have an obligation to play an active role in the creation of a labour force equipped with the skills which they need, such as the provision of management skills and support for vocational training centres and the funding of posts in specific technological areas. They also have a role to play in assisting entrepreneurial development, especially at the level of micro-enterprises.
The consultative processes and partnership arrangements should be developed and strengthened to achieve more effective and efficient management of the education system and shared decision-making in the development and implementation of education and training programmes at both formal and non-formal national and regional levels.
Migration is a source of human resource leakage from Caribbean societies. Policies to retain skills need to be developed, bearing the mind the importance of job satisfaction, opportunities for personal development and remuneration. Policies and strategies to strengthen the links with our migrant communities and draw upon their potentials in the areas of finance, purchasing power, knowledge base, skills and experience, need to be put into place.
Technology and Technology Policy
Caribbean competitiveness will depend on its capacity to identify, develop and assimilate technologies to produce more efficiently and improve the range and quality of its products. The Conference accordingly agreed to recommend to the Heads of Government that a Regional Technological Alert System be established in order to better select, adapt and update them to the needs of local and foreign markets. It also agreed to recommend that Governments take the necessary steps to place a high priority on technological advancement and the development and pooling of a technological intelligence capability in Caribbean people. In this regard, they agree to work towards an allocation of at least 1 per cent of GDP over a five-year period for Research and Development and to strengthen the linkages between producing enterprises and the indigenous technological capability.
The social partners are committed to providing the necessary education and support measures to ensure that population policies in the Caribbean achieve a rate of population growth which will allow for a sustainable improvement in the quality of life.
Development of Social Infrastructure
Social infrastructure promotes a number of key services in the areas of education, health and nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation and sport. It, therefore, enhances individual well-being and creativity and engenders a sense of community. Efforts will need to be intensified to ensure that social infrastructure is not further depleted. Policy should focus on areas such as, greater efficiency in the delivery of social services; more precise targeting of the neediest groups for special attention and improving the quality of social services, including increased expenditure on selected areas of nutrition, health and education.
Democratization and the Social Partnership
The democratic process enshrines the right of all citizens to participate in the formulation of policies which affect them. This includes free and fair elections on a predictable basis, and the availability of machinery which will allow all citizens to participate actively in, and enjoy equitably the benefits of, the development process.
Role of Social Partners
Public participation by the social partners should be facilitated by systematic arrangements which mobilize the specific characteristics and concerns of the various groups constituting the membership.
The Public Sector
The essential role of the public sector is to establish the broad framework of socio-economic development, including infrastructure and a system of laws and regulations. Nevertheless, there are instances where public participation in directly productive investments is necessary. Governmental agencies as a group should also ensure that efficient machinery exists to allow policy formulation and implementation to be conducted in close collaboration with the other partners.
The Labour Unions
The labour unions have a major role in educating members about the socio-economic issues and in mobilising members in pursuit of the defined national and regional objectives of expanding employment, increasing incomes, and improving the quality of life. The labour unions should continue to sensitise their membership to the importance of increasing the national savings ratio, the development of thrift and cooperation, enhanced training and retraining among workers, and should strive for greater productivity and more efficient and effective management of business. Labour unions should also encourage members to participate in ownership of business enterprises, in co-operatives and otherwise and to become entrepreneurs.
The Business Sector
The business sector, consisting of formal and informal sub-sectors, while primarily concerned with gainful activity, should adopt a more enlightened approach which includes the encouragement of workers to participate in business enterprise, and to make a contribution to social infrastructure, especially health, education, training and retraining, and increasing the proportion of profit which is reinvested in order to expand employment and raise productivity. Special efforts should also be made to mobilise the entrepreneurial capability existing within the informal sector.
Non-governmental organisations encompass a wide variety of community-based organisations in urban and rural areas, professional associations, and specialised interest groups. They are organised at the national and regional levels, which are not established by the public sector and are not obliged to structure their activities in accordance with official guidelines. They are conduits of information about the interests, perspectives and experiences of the community; they can assist in the effective formulation and implementation of development policies and, in some cases, they are also a source of specialised expertise. Non-governmental organisations should be enabled to expand the scope and degree of their interaction with the other social partners and bring their specialised knowledge and expertise to bear on the decision-making process designed to achieve beneficial social change.
Fostering the Social Partnership
Consensus building must be a continuous and concentrated effort because the goals of social partners may not be totally coincident and may instead be divergent. The search for consensus could be facilitated by fuller and more effective use of institutional structures already in place for the purpose, and by the promotion of other institutional initiatives.
Outward Looking Development Strategies
Production and Trade
Increased emphasis will need to be placed on the production of tradeable goods and services as it was recognised that trade is a critically important instrument for promoting economic development.
Significant gains can still be made from a focus on agriculture, agro-industry, mineral resources, manufacturing and services and these should be supported in both the formal and informal sectors.
The regional market must constitute the domestic market for any producer in the Region. At the same time preservation of preferential access and efforts to penetrate other markets must be pursued in the effort to increase export earnings.
It is recognised that trade in services has the potential to provide significant foreign exchange earnings. The Region must identify opportunities in the service sector bearing in mind the global developments and must develop and implement policies, programmes and incentives designed to develop the sector and to promote trade in services.
A number of support measures will be needed to ensure higher productivity and international competitiveness:
- (i) a cost effective physical infrastructure;
- (ii) in agriculture, industry and tourism appropriate measures for resource conservation and environmental protection should be adopted;
- (iii) careful selection of products and markets in accordance with the market potential and the capability of the Region to produce competitively;
- (iv) encouragement of capital accumulation, technological improvement and human resource development;
- (v) supportive appropriate trade and transport policies;
- (vi) freedom of movement within the Region of labour, capital, goods and services;
- (vii) provision of supporting services to facilitate the development of small and medium sized businesses.
Cooperative action within the Region can play a significant supportive role in expanding production capabilities through joint production, marketing and the use of complementary regional resources.
The penetration of preferential and non-preferential markets will be facilitated by a more aggressive effort in marketing including a concentrated focus on a few selected products and markets having the greatest export potential, export promotion policies and infrastructure, research and development and joint ventures supported by appropriate legislative and fiscal measures.
Recognising overlapping national jurisdiction and limited national capabilities, the Region should work towards a joint management of the resources in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
Capital Accumulation and Enhancement
The Conference agreed that there was need to increase national savings and encourage capital accumulation and investment by increasing the share of income which is reinvested in plant and equipment and in enhancing human capability. A number of measures will be needed to ensure that savings are raised to a level of at least 25-30 per cent of national income and to ensure that these savings are allocated in priority sectors on investment projects which are optimally chosen.
Furthermore, measures need to be taken to ensure –
- (i) an improvement in the investment climate;
- (ii) an increase in profit ratios and in reinvestment rates including investment in human resources;
- (iii) the development and strengthening of domestic financial institutions and new financial instruments;
- (iv) monetary and fiscal policies to stimulate savings and foster investor confidence;
- (v) the establishment of a regional capital market beginning with a Caribbean Stock Exchange;
- (vi) the eventual establishment of a common currency; and
- (vii) the mobilisation of savings from nationals abroad.
Regional approaches to the international bond and equity markets also hold promise for a greater efficiency, appropriate measures being the establishment of a CARICOM Investment Fund, and expanding the capability of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in order to improve the conditions under which external loan funds can be accessed. Recognising the deterioration in our social services and other infrastructure, as well as the severe strains imposed on our people as a result of our debt servicing and the conditionalities of international financial institutions, the Region should adopt a concerted approach with other third world countries in their debt negotiations with the multilateral financial institutions since many of the debt initiatives so far advocated exclude CARICOM multilateral debt.
Environment and Development
The development policies adopted by the Caribbean to improve the quality of life in the near term should not deny future generations similar options for development. Protection and restoration of the environment must be fully integrated into such policies. The policies must recognise that economic activity arises from the interaction between society and nature and neglect of either would be detrimental to any strategy for economic survival and growth.
Development policies must integrate environmental assessment from the design through the evaluation phases.
Urgent attention should be directed towards action on the priority issues identified in the Port-of-Spain Accord on the Environment.
Regional cooperation is a fundamental dimension of national development.
The Region has arrived at the point where it is necessary to make a quantum leap in the integration process; there is therefore an urgent need for more effective machinery for regional cooperation and for implementing decisions of Heads of Governments and other CARICOM Organs and Institutions. This will inevitably entail the surrendering of some degree of individual national sovereignties, but the potential benefits which can be realised from more concerted action will more than compensate.
Cooperative action is necessary to provide –
- (i) the space to mobilise the natural, financial and human resources for developmental activities;
- (ii) the basic market for goods and services and the strength to penetrate extra-regional markets;
- (iii) the base for higher level training, research and development and for information gathering;
- (iv) the base from which to deal with external agencies and to effect international cooperation;
- (v) the means of managing the EEZ of the various states and protecting the Caribbean Sea;
- (vi) a sufficient base for the infrastructure – telecommunications, transportation (air and sea) – needed to facilitate efficient economic and social activities.
There is a need to develop new and more effective methods of collective policy formulation and implementation. The new communication technology should be used to fister even more frequent interaction.
The role of the integration institutions and in particular the Secretariat must be strengthened. This will involve the granting of greater autonomy and financial security which can be assured through an independent source of funding for the integration system.
In addition, the Region should speak with one voice on the issues which affect Member Countries in their relations with the outside world. More wide-spread use of joint representation, especially in international negotiations will also optimise the productivity of the scarce human and financial resources.
The process of deepening the integration movement must now be complemented by a determined and systematic effort to intensify relations with the wider Caribbean, Central and Latin America and in this connection the offers for discussion coming from President Rafael Leonardo Callejas Romero of Honduras and President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela should be actively pursued.
Closer institutional and functional arrangements need to be forged at all levels and greater use made of existing restrictions and facilities.
Furthering the Consultative Process
Recognising the importance attached to the consultative process, the Conference recommended that:
- (i) the social partners take steps to follow up on the outcome of this meeting;
- (ii) Governments which have not yet established consultative machinery involving the social partners should do so in order to develop national positions on the several issues and to follow up the implementation of decisions taken at the regional level;
- (iii) this Conference should be institutionalised as a
Triennial Caribbean Conference of the Social Partners
- . The Member State hosting the Conference will have the responsibility for chairing the Preparatory Task Force;
- (iv) the Secretary-General of CARICOM should establish Working Groups of the social partners on selected issues to pursue consultations between the triennial Conferences.