Dr. the Hon. Errol Cort, Minister of Finance and the Economy of Antigua and Barbuda and Chairman of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED)
Other Ministers of Government
Your Excellencies Ambassadors to the Caribbean Community
Staff of the Secretariat
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Once more it is my pleasure, as Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, to welcome you to a meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). I extend a special welcome to you Mr. Chairman on your assumption of the Chair of this august Community body.
This 20th Meeting of the COTED comes mere days following the launch on 1st January, by six CARICOM Member States – Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago – of the CARICOM Single Market. That step by those countries should serve to provide added impetus for all other Member States to complete the arrangements to be in a position by 31 March 2006 to participate and benefit from this significant advance in our integration arrangements. This progress is in great measure the fruits of and a tribute to the work of this Council ably served by your dedicated officials and may I say your equally dedicated Secretariat.
Honourable Ministers, there is no doubt that the people of the Region are ready to avail themselves of the opportunities presented by the Single Market. Indeed the word “eager” might be more fitting as already, only 12 days into the Single Market, there are signs that the provisions are already being tested. The people of our Community have taken us at our word and are voicing their legitimate expectations that have to be met.
It is our solemn duty, as being among those charged with the responsibility to operate the Single Market, to ensure that all the relevant procedures are in place to guarantee its efficient functioning. Further, we must inform and educate our citizens with respect to their entitlements under the Single Market and as regards the procedures necessary to make full use of the functioning Single Market. In this process, there must be clarity of message. Whatever teething problems might arise must be smoothed over with relatively little difficulty.
I can attest personally and some of my officers in the Secretariat can as well, that the questions have been coming thick and fast within the last fortnight, about how and how quickly, the benefits of the free movement – in particular free movement of skilled nationals – can be reaped. Questions include: Does my professional qualification permit me to seek employment in another country? – that from a hairdresser. Where can skills certificates be obtained? – that from a taxi driver. Is it fair and legal that advertisements for employment continue to speak of nationals being given preference? – that from a lawyer. As a service provider can I now hang my shingle anywhere within the Market? – that from a dentist.
And, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, these questions come from within the Community. There is also considerable expectation outside the Community. The world out there has taken us at our word as well, that as of 1 January 2006 we are open for business as one market. Make no mistake, the investors out there would have already done their analyses and know what they want to target.
This Council has the formidable task to ensure that the procedures are in place, that the rules are followed and that the institutions are established to allow for optimal utilisation of the Single Market. To these ends it must spearhead the movement towards the full and early implementation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, paying particular attention to the provisions on Special and Differential Treatment and to those on Disadvantaged Countries, Regions and Sectors.
Critical in this context, is the Regional Development Fund. This mechanism currently under discussion at the level of the Council for Finance and Planning, will hopefully be definitively determined at the Second Special Meeting of COFAP in Jamaica on 31 January. Another vital institutional arrangement to which you will be directing your attention today, is the Competition Commission, an instrument designed, inter alia, to prevent the abuse of a dominant position by any enterprise as the markets no longer remain separated but become integrated. The agenda for today’s meeting clearly reflects the primacy of the Single Market in the Community’s life. Issues ranging from Services, Agriculture, Standards, the Common External Tariff – all bearing some relation to the Single Market – are down for discussion. Our focus is clear. The advent of the Single Market has not come upon us like a thief in the night. We have planned for it and talked about it. Now from 1 January, the time has come for us to walk the talk and work the plan. As we build these new structures for advancing the integration process we can only validly do so if, at the same time, we ensure that the already existing structures and mechanisms are delivering as they were designed to do. This is why the operation of the trade in goods regime and its many component parts occupy such an important place on the agenda today.
It is the bread and butter or should I rather say the rice and beans of our arrangements. You will need to treat with its many coils and springs to max a metaphor, to ensure that it functions like a well-oiled machine. In this process your remit involves both intra and extra Community trade arrangements. Mr. Chairman, in a very literal sense, the climate in which we live and in which our Community is developing, is fast changing. The task of our Climate Change Centre in Belize in spearheading the Community’s adjustments to this global phenomenon of climate change – which impacts on every aspect of our Community life – is one which cannot be postponed. Your Council has that serious charge as well. It is clear Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers that your responsibility is wide and heavy, your agenda today clearly reflects that. Your officials have provided you with the benefit of their technical advice and recommendations flowing from their deliberations over the past two days. The Community looks forward, in anticipation, to your conclusions. I wish you all success in the discharge of your onerous task and pledge my full support and that of the Secretariat. Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.