CARICOM heads meet in Belize

The beachfront Ocean Club on the Placencia peninsula was the venue of the 27th Intersessional Caricom Heads of Government Summit earlier this week. Regional leaders convened to discuss issues of great significance to member countries, but more than discussion, it was dubbed as an action session to formulate a structured guide to resolving those issues.

So just how much was achieved in the very streamlined meetings? Caricom Secretary General Irwin Larocque, in a joint 30-minute press conference with Caricom Chairman, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, claimed “you’d be surprised to know the amount of work our heads of government have achieved in a day and a half. Some of the topics, as you have heard, are fairly weighty but they were dealt with thoroughly and with guides to action.”

The loss of correspondent banking relationships is threatening the entire region, and that issue was the focus of the first and most critical Caricom Finance Ministers Meeting held on Monday.

Coming out of that session, regional leaders have agreed to set up a high-level advocacy group, chaired by the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Brown. That group will represent the region in talks with the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO), US Congress and regulators, particularly in the US.

But there is much more on the table, including the possibility of Caricom countries pooling resources to attract Tier 1 banks. According to Barrow, “we recognize that the conundrum of the correspondent banks not wanting to assume the burden of the regulatory requirements given that the returns from our business are fairly small is something that we have to address.”

Signalling the region’s willingness to put its mouth and money into a resolution, Barrow revealed that “one of the things we’ve talked about is the possibility of perhaps getting insurance that could see us then be in a position to pay the fines that would be levied against the correspondent banks.”
The situation is critical, and it is expected that the advocacy group will embark on its mission sooner, rather than later.

Where Zika is concerned, regional leaders have endorsed a plan of action to address the disease, which has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a public health emergency of international concern.

According to Barrow, “the course of action includes continuous public education…actions to implement measures at ports of entry, health facilities, schools, private enterprises such as hotels and tourism facilities, factories, other businesses…concentrating on their surrounding environments in an effort to try and do whatever is necessary, fogging, prevention to render them free of Aedes Aegypti breeding.”

In a more immediate and practical measure, regional leaders will explore the reduction of taxes and duties on materials like pesticides to fight not only Zika but all vector-borne diseases.

Technical experts from Caricom have been kept busy fleshing out agreements made at the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris recently. That session has been recognized as perhaps the most effective meeting of the minds and hands on climate change since the issue was introduced in 1989.

Barrow revealed that a task force convened will continue the work, stating that “there were commitments made by various countries to certain outcomes. There was not the kind of binding treaty mechanism that would absolutely guarantee the results. So there has to be this continuing process of engagement so that there can be no doubt as to putting flesh on the bones.” Barrow called on all regional leaders to attend a climate change signing ceremony in New York in April.

One of the peripheral issues addressed was the status of Secretary General Irwin Larocque, whose term is coming to a close. Barrow revealed that a unanimous decision was taken to reappoint the Secretary-General for another five years.

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