Leaders talk trade, immigration
By Dawne Parris in St Lucia | Thu, July 05, 2012 - 10:52 AM
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is this morning in closed door meetings with his regional colleagues for whole day talks on critical matters affecting regional integration, ahead of his presentation to them tomorrow on recommendations for advancing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
He will report to leaders tomorrow on the outcome of the meeting of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on the CSME, which he chaired on Tuesday, a day before the 33rd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government officially opened in St Lucia.
This morning, the CARICOM prime ministers will discuss a variety of issues, including trade and immigration, among themselves before being joined by their Foreign Ministers in the afternoon.
Their deliberations follow the first plenary session of the summit yesterday, at which concerns were raised about rum subsidies to US Caribbean islands eating into the profits of rum producers in CARICOM and a new European Union (EU) development policy which would severely limit the level of grant funding to those countries that fall in the middle-income category.
CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque told a press conference last night that the subsidies being provided to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico “have the potential for damaging the market of our rum producers in the region.
“It is a matter which is of grave concern and it has been agreed that there needs to be some intervention of some sort to inform the US of our concerns in that regard,” he said.
As for the EU-CARICOM relationship which was addressed by Secretary General of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas at the plenary, LaRocque said the proposed funding cuts would affect the region significantly since the money was instrumental in many development projects.
However, Prime Minister Stuart said the ACP head had promised to work with CARICOM on issues related to the relationship with the EU.
“I think the phrase that he used … is that when the music is changing the dance has to change and given the volcanic changes taking place in Europe it is clear that the ACP countries have to adjust to account for those changes. He was saying that the ACP is prepared to work with CARICOM to ensure that we are always in step with the kind of music being played and we don’t find ourselves dancing to a tune that is not being played,” Stuart told the media moments before LaRocque’s press conference.
LaRocque said Dr Chambas had also mentioned proposals for an ACP Free Trade Area and an ACP Trade and Investment Bank but gave no details.
Agreements with other regions were also on yesterday’s agenda.
LaRocque said leaders had accepted the recommendations to advance a new agreement to replace the Caribbean-Canada Trade Agreement (CARIBCAN) which expires in December 2013. Those recommendations came out of Tuesday’s meeting of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Negotiations, which was chaired Jamaica’s Portia Simpson-Miller.
Stuart, who disclosed that another round of talks between CARICOM and Canada is scheduled for mid-July, said issues related to development, labour and the environment were dividing the two sides.
“But we are optimistic that we can get an agreement before the existing one expires so that there’ll be a seamless transition,” he said. “We expect whatever concessions have to be made on both sides will be made so that we can secure a successor agreement.”
The meeting also agreed that preparations should be expedited to continue engagement with the Dominican Republic on a Free Trade Agreement.
Wednesday’s closed-door session was also addressed by and Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza.
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