It is fitting that we should gather here in Trinidad and Tobago on this most significant occasion in the history of our Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
It is significant because it was here, 50 years ago, that Prime Ministers, Errol Barrow of Barbados, Forbes Burnham of Guyana, Michael Manley of Jamaica and Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas, setting the Region on a solid footing on the road to integration.
I must thank the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley for his ready acceptance of my proposal to host this 45th meeting of the Conference in recognition of the fact that it coincides with the milestone of our Community’s golden anniversary.
I am sure you will agree with me that there is no better place than the birthplace of CARICOM, to mark and celebrate this occasion.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen I feel a sense of deep privilege that I assume the Chair of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM as we embark on another 50 years of strengthening regional integration to further advance gains already made in the interest of all the people of our region. I follow the Honourable Philip Davis, Prime Minister of the Bahamas, whose energetic and thoughtful leadership over the past six months has set the tone for this week’s celebrations.
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, this past 50 years of CARICOM have seen many achievements. We deserve to be proud of our history.
It is no mean feat that we are the longest surviving economic integration movement in the developing world and second only to the European Union globally.
It is with justifiable pride that we should all say I AM CARICOM. Even as we celebrate this landmark in the evolution of our integration movement, we must be mindful that the symbols and events of celebration do not serve as a distraction from the substance of the heavy lifting still needed to make our Community viable, prosperous, secure and beneficial to all of its people.
As we set ourselves new targets to ensure that we thrive in this ever-changing global environment, there are unfinished tasks that we must complete. The issues of free movement, non-tariff barriers to trade, reliable and affordable transportation are all fundamental to a truly integrated CARICOM.
We must address our minds and collective will to resolve some key issues. We have the opportunity on this historic occasion, and as we deliberate over the next few days, to take some decisions that can be truly transformative for our people, and which will shape the future of our Community for the next 50 years.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of this CAIRCOM Community, I pose a question to all of us, one, that I am sure is on the minds of all citizens of this region: What is really preventing us from reviving the Single Domestic Space that once allowed our citizens to traverse freely across our Region? We have already tried and tested the Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS), which allows Immigration and Security personnel in each of our countries, full access to the details of every passenger boarding an aircraft or ferry. The APIS system, also makes a nonsense of the continued use of ED forms.
Additionally, the Implementation Agency for Crime and Security System (IMPACS) and the Regional Security System, (RSS), institutions that we have relied on during the toughest of times are both well-equipped to complement the workings of the Advanced Passenger Information System.
My distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to make intra-regional travel a joy rather than a hassle. Sixteen years ago, we showed considerable commitment and political will to allow our people to move freely through 10 Member States. It worked then; it can work now.
Similar political will must be brought to bear, on the issues of expansion of the categories for free movement of skilled nationals to benefit the growth and expansion of the regional economy and the spirit of our Community. The reality is that in any free trade arrangement within an integration movement, there will be those who benefit more than others. We recognise this in our Revised Treaty. It is therefore incumbent upon us all, to strive to increase the ability of the less endowed to participate more fully in the trading arrangements.
We must all seek to make our arrangements more equitable and use the provisions of the Treaty in a more positive manner.
It is true, that there are dispute mechanism procedures but we are all in this together for the benefit of the entire CARICOM. This is the true spirit of Community. We are our brothers and sisters’ keeper not only in times of disasters, but in all things.
Ladies and Gentlemen unity in economic well-being, in security, in health, and in disaster management must be translated into all our processes. This must be the mantra that propels us into the next 50 years.
Another of our processes which must be addressed, is that of regional travel. We are all very aware of the challenges of making air and sea transportation more efficient and affordable; but I dare say, it is for these insistent challenges, that our region looks most to this CARICOM Community for solutions.
Colleague Heads, we need now to actively pursue, creative, and affordable partnerships to deliver on this crucial element of integration in the interest of our people.
The movement of people and goods are the backbone of a successful integration arrangement. We have done all the studies, and the statistics point us to the favourable outcome of an effective transportation system. I accept that this is a challenge that requires investments which may not see an immediate return. It requires confidence, that the provision of such a service will boost commercial opportunities and encourage more intra-regional travel.
Our drive to reduce our food import bill by 25 percent by 2025 depends in large measure on intra-regional transportation. The early indications are that our agriculture sector is rising to the challenge.
We need our entrepreneurs, therefore, to look favourably upon the opportunities available in the transportation sector and be there for the long haul.
As we reflect and deliberate on the challenges of true integration, we must address our minds to the complex issues facing our Member State, Haiti.
We have committed as a Community to supporting the Haitian people; to broker a Haitian-led solution, to the instability that they now face. It is a crisis that requires our continued support and the support of the wider international community.
The initial outreach has met with generally favourable reactions. We are well aware that it is just the beginning, and our engagement must build from that and we must keep the dialogue going until there is not only light at the end of the tunnel, but a station for the stakeholders to disembark from the train, united in purpose and action.
The trust that the Haitian stakeholders have placed in us, exemplifies the credibility that CARICOM has built over the years.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends of CARICOM, it concerns me that too many of our citizens are skeptical and some downright dismissive of the value and benefit of CARICOM.
I am personally encouraged, however by the engagement of our youth and their involvement in advancing the objectives of our Community.
For it is their actions that will determine where we go over the next 50 years. Yes, we are 50 years strong, with a solid foundation to build on. It is upon that foundation that our youth should be bold enough to forge a path for CARICOM that takes it to places that we have not been before or have been too cautious to traverse.
I am encouraged that our young people have shown much promise and have demonstrated their readiness whether it is in the battle against climate change, their grasp of technology and their leveraging of new technologies to create jobs right at home, their innovation and creativity, allied with entrepreneurship and cultural products, and in sports and the arts.
Our youth are the present and the future and I am proud that this time around, that they too, are actively involved in the path being mapped out to help them become productive global citizens.
My dear friends, the region’s 11 million young people are depending on this CARICOM to play a leading role in crime prevention and the elimination of its harmful effects on citizens and societies.
Our students are depending on us to harmonise our regional education systems and to set targeted learning outcomes to prepare millennials to not just survive but to thrive, in a fast-paced, global economy, … to reconstruct a classroom layout and timetable that promotes the development of the holistic child grounded in culture and values.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am thrilled to welcome to this forum the Secretary General of the United Nations.
The distinguished Secretary General, by his very presence here, in this significant holiday week in the United States, demonstrates his interest and commitment to CARICOM. I challenge to each of us here assembled, is to do likewise.
Believe in CARICOM.
Take your commitments to, and responsibilities in CARICOM,
Let us lift CARICOM up and we just may be pleasantly surprised by the benefits that a focused, united, unified CARICOM can bring, to our countries and to the people we each have the honor to serve.
I thank you.