Prime Minister of Saint Lucia and Outgoing Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, Hon. Allan Chastanet, has lauded the Region’s response to the Novel Corona-virus as “regionalism working”.
The Prime Minister said the approach reminded him of the importance of being part of a group that in times of emergency had your back. He expressed gratitude to the Regional Security System (RSS) and Caribbean Regional Public Health Agency (CARPHA) for their role in the Region’s response, particularly as it related to transporting and quickly testing samples.
“You had Saint Lucia’s back and we thank you. This is what being part of CARICOM is about,” Prime Minister Chastanet said.
He was speaking at the opening of the Thirty-First intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM being held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre in Barbados, 18-19 February, 2020.
In his remarks, Prime Minister Chastanet identified a number of issues that were of significance within the Region. Among them were climate change, blacklisting by the EU, adversities facing small island states in the international community, the ongoing situation in Venezuela, and the withdrawal of correspondent banking services from the Region.
Speaking on the issues of correspondent banking and de-risking, he reported that in light of the threat to financial institutions of losing critical relationships with banks in the United States, the matter was taken to Washington by delegation led by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, the Hon. Gaston Browne, following a meeting that was held in Saint Lucia.
“We have moved the needle on de-risking and the OECS is working on a single compliance department,” he reported.
He further reported that another CARICOM delegation interfaced with the European Union on the troubling issue of blacklisting. He stated that Member States of the Community, continued to take the necessary steps to comply with the demands of the regulating agencies, but while they do, countries in the Region were still being penalized. According to him, some countries remained on a grey list, while one Member State still remained on the blacklist.
“We must continue working until all of us are off the list, but more importantly, we must make every effort to ensure this undemocratic and discriminatory practice of a public blacklist is discontinued,” Prime Minister Chastanet said.
He also used the opportunity to welcome Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Francois-Philipe Champagne who attended the opening and would be engaging the Heads during the Conference. The Prime Minister said Canada’s relationship with the Caribbean dated back to Prime Minister Trudeau’s father in the 1960s. He said that he looked forward to continuing to strengthening ties with that country. He said while the ties have been impressive, he believed there was more that could be done and asked for Canada’s voice and leadership, particularly as it related to climate change, de-risking and blacklisting.
The Saint Lucian Prime Minister also noted that despite the withdrawal of some Canadian Banks from the Region, there continued to be major Canadian investments through both public private partnerships and privately.
“We are also keen on the reinstatement of visa-free access to Canada and support from Canada in fields where it has achieved world class status such as Education, Health Care and Security,” Prime Minister Chastanet said.
Turning to the matter of Brexit, PM Chastanet said that since 2017, and under the umbrella of CARIFORUM, the Community has been involved in discussions with the United Kingdom on an agreement that would govern trade post-Brexit and replicate the effects of the CARIFORUM-European Union Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). This, he said, would ensure continuity in the preferential trading relationship and avoid disruption in preferential trade between the CARIFORUM States and the United Kingdom.
In closing, Prime Minister Chastanet referred to questions he had asked the Heads at the beginning of his tenure as Chairman regarding the level of satisfaction of CARICOM citizens with their performance and if they were pushing themselves hard enough. He said that those questions were still relevant today as the people of the Caribbean Community had a lot riding on the integration process.