- Honourable, Alva Baptiste, Minister of External Affairs International Trade, Civil Aviation and Diaspora Affairs of Saint Lucia and Chair of Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED);
- Other Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegations;
- Representatives of Regional Institutions;
- Distinguished Delegates;
- Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to say a few words of welcome to this Fifty-Fifth Regular Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). Congratulations to the Honourable Alva Baptiste on his assumption of duty as Chairman of this Council. Minister, as a veteran of this Council, we know you are going to be bringing your able guidance to its deliberations.
This Meeting is taking place against the ominous backdrop of rising food and energy prices, global food shortages, and interruptions in global supply and logistics chains, all of which began in during the COVID pandemic and have been spurred by the war in Ukraine. These realities are leading analysts to predict a global economic recession in 2023.
Now, more than ever before, our collective drive to deepen and consolidate our regional integration process assumes greater urgency. Integration is the critical platform for improvement in our trade performance, and it is our trade performance that will drive the economic growth that we need. Advancing the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), as a vehicle to achieve economic resilience, takes on even greater priority in the drive towards sustainable development.
This Council can and is expected to take the lead in shaping a 21st century regional trade policy that responds to the current international realities, and positions the Community to integrate fully into the global economy, while safeguarding our collective economic interests. We have serious work to do, as today’s Agenda makes clear.
We must expeditiously work to complete the update of the Common External Tariff and Rules of Origin regimes.
Our private sector must seek to take full advantage of the recently launched CARICOM Marketplace and Suspension Procedure (CIMSuPro) to identify trade and investment opportunities that meet the internal demands of the CSM.
We must take the measures necessary to implement fully the Community Public Procurement Regime, by approving the rules and regulations for administering public procurement in the Community.
We know that our small economies, even acting collectively within our regional single market, rely on international trade for the majority of the essential supplies that we require for our economies to grow sustainably. Our anticipated reduction of our food import bill by 25% by 2025 will still leave us with the remaining 75% spent on food imports that has to be paid for by export revenue.
Ministers, the Community has agreed that we should update and consolidate our bilateral trade agreements with hemispheric trading partners. In this regard, the COTED must take critical decisions to advance our negotiations to expand preferential access under the CARICOM-Colombia Agreement at this time.
Honourable Ministers, in wishing you success in your deliberations, I urge you to provide clear and decisive instructions, and guidance to your Officials. The COTED must ensure that Officials continue to respond efficiently and effectively to its mandates. When we set deadlines, we must commit to meeting those deadlines. I assure you that the Secretariat stands ready to support the implementation of the decisions that will be taken today.
I thank you.