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It is with a measure of satisfaction that we mark the Twenty-Seventh Anniversary of the Caribbean Community.

At this juncture in our history, the Community sits on the cusp of a new era in our lives. We are facing a world of immense possibilities, but also one of unprecedented challenges.

Since its last anniversary, the Community has made determined efforts and steady progress in a number of critical areas. The nine Protocols amending the Treaty of Chaguaramas, have been completed and have been signed by most Member States. We have therefore completed the legal framework for transforming the Common Market into a Single Market and Economy – that is, a single economic space during 2000, as targetted. Our attention is now turned to their implementation.

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy, when implemented, will enhance our capacity for competitive production, and improve market access for our goods and services. This will not be adequately advanced if the full involvement of the people of the Region in this exciting enterprise, as envisioned by the Leaders of the Caribbean Community at their landmark Meeting at Grand Anse, Grenada in 1989, is not ensured.

This year will witness the completion of the arrangements with the creation of a critical piece of the mechanism necessary for the effective functioning of the Single Market and Economy. This is the Caribbean Court of Justice, which will have both appellate jurisdiction in respect of criminal and civil matters, and an original jurisdiction in respect of the interpretation and application of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community.

Regionally beyond CARICOM, we have also advanced arrangements for implementing the Agreement establishing the Free Trade Area between the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic. The Protocol, which provides arrangements for trade in goods promises to make arrangements for trade in services, was signed by CARICOM and the Dominican Republic in April.

Tomorrow we will sign an historic Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement with Cuba!

Heads of Government, in looking to the future, adopted last October, the Consensus of Chaguaramas. This instrument seeks to sharpen the focus of the development thrust of the CARICOM Countries, particularly in the areas of Services, Environment, Human Resource Development, Information Technology and Telecommunications, Agriculture and Tourism and, when implemented, is certain to make the integration process of the Region more meaningful for our peoples.

At that same October Meeting CARICOM Heads of Government also decided to create a Quasi Cabinet structure by assigning “portfolios” of strategic priorities to individual Heads of Government. This new structure, which was fully constituted at the Eleventh Inter-Sessional Meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis in March this year, adds a new dimension to the process of regional governance which is expected to yield significant progress in these vital areas.

The new global economy is increasingly technology and knowledge-driven. This provides new opportunities for the Caribbean Community. Optimising their opportunities, however, requires new approaches to the development of our human resources. Our people must be equipped to function and to excel in an extraordinarily dynamic technological realm. Several initiatives are being pursued at different levels of the education and training systems within Member States. These include the introduction of computer technology studies; strengthening of some technical and vocational education on training systems; and upgrading of programmes of some community colleges to the level of associate degrees and articulation with UWI. We must continue to work together to ensure that we develop the capacity to successfully meet these goals.

The increasing incidence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region threatens to reverse the gains made in social and economic development over the last three decades and to thwart our poverty reduction efforts. In the age group 25-44 years – our productive workforce – AIDS has been the leading cause of death of both males and females. Our Heads of Government have accorded high priority to addressing this issue which will find a prominent place in the Agenda of their current meeting in Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a challenge for our entire society. We must all commit to eradicating this scourge.

The Community continues to face severe challenges in its external trade and economic relations. Following an assault on its traditional preferential market for goods, last year the Community also witnessed a virtual assault by the OECD countries, on the off-shore financial sector which underpins many of the economies and indeed all sectors which are driven by mobile capital. It must be recalled that Caribbean economies established these offshore sectors on the strong advice of the developed countries and the international organisations, among others, to diversify their economies away from their traditional agricultural base.

The Community has responded to the initiatives of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against the taxation policies of several of its Member States, and to the reports the Group of 7 Financial Stability Forum on Off-Shore Financial Centres and the OECD Financial Action Task Force on “Uncooperative Jurisdictions” with a high degree of unity. The Community has been working to strengthen the Region against money laundering activities and simultaneously to protect the sovereignty of the Member States in fiscal matters. This cooperation must be continued and strengthened as the Region seeks to participate beneficially in a most competitive global economy.

CARICOM Countries, like all other small developing countries, must continue to actively seek the means of adapting to the shifting paradigms of a new and globalised world of the 21st century, and of resolving the many challenges that this new world brings. We will need the collaboration and support of all of the stakeholders – at the national and regional levels. Charting the Community’s course at this critical juncture of its existence requires of all, full commitment and not merely a marginal involvement.

From Canouan in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Happy 27th CARICOM Day to all.

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