A comprehensive review of the current status of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was among the matters before Caribbean Community Heads of Government at their just ended 28th inter-Sessional Meeting in Guyana.
The review, mandated by the Heads at their previous meeting in July 2016, spoke to the achievements to date, the matters being held up by Member States or Community Organs, work that is in train or still to be done, and the challenges being faced.
The Meeting agreed that there was significant progress in the implementation of the CSME, and noted that the areas of achievement include legal and institutional measures and mechanisms to support free movement of goods, services, skills and the cross border establishment of businesses.
The Heads were however concerned that for some areas, decision taken were not complied with in Member States and they agreed that the necessary action will be taken to effect compliance. They identified some impediments to further development of the CSME, including capacity constraints at the national level, the need for effective consultative mechanisms, and the necessity for timely meetings of the responsible Community’s Organs and Bodies. Some priority areas noted for attention going forward include, the challenges with payments for goods and services traded in the Region, and completion of the protocol relating to facilitation of travel.
The CSME, conceived by the Caribbean Community in 1989 and given various priority areas for focussed attention over its existence, is intended to better position Member States to grow by accessing and using their combined, rather than individual resources. Its successful Legal and Institutional measures and mechanisms include transforming regional arrangements into domestic law. There have also been agreements and arrangements to establish and operationalise various Community institutions, needed for the effective operation of the CSME. These include the Barbados-based CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSSQ), the CARICOM Competition Commission (CCC) headquartered in Suriname, the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) in Barbados, and the Trinidad and Tobago based Implementing Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS).
Under CSME provisions, CARICOM Nationals have a right to enter a Member State and be given a stay of six months. Member States have also moved towards the use of common embarkation/disembarkation (E/D) forms and the introduction of CARICOM/non CARICOM lines at immigration points at ports of entry.
Progress has also been made in the area of movement of skilled nationals. Participating Member States have removed work permit requirements and accorded indefinite stay for agreed categories of persons with a Certificate of Recognition (Skilled Certificate). The first group included university graduates, media workers, sports persons, artistes, and musicians. Other categories added subsequently are in varying stages of implementation and include nurses, teachers, holders of associate degrees, artisans with (Caribbean Vocational Qualifications) CVQs, and domestics with CVQs or equivalent. Since the inception in 1996, around 16,000 Skilled Certificates have been issued.
Work has advanced in shaping regional policies and strategies in the productive sectors to achieve increased production, competitiveness and exports of goods and services.
In Agriculture, the focus has been on addressing the constraints to reducing the Region’s high food import bill, increasing exports and achieving food and nutrition security. In the Services sector strategic plans are being developed for professional, cultural, entertainment and sports, health and wellness, educational, financial, construction, tourism and ICT services. The Energy sector has benefitted from increased attention and funding, particularly in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and has seen the establishment of a new Regional institution, the Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREE), based in Barbados. A plan of action for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is to be finalised, and will following-on from the recent adoption of a regional policy. A Regional Transportation Commission is focussing on increased coordination among airlines for a more integrated service to the public; addressing the movement of agricultural products across the Region; the possibility of a fast ferry; and completing the multilateral air services agreement. A roadmap for a single ICT space has been developed and was approved by Heads of Government at their just ended Inter-Sessional Meeting. The Heads emphasised that the Single ICT Space would be one of the driving forces for social and economic development of the Community as it would support the Digital Economy, implementation of the CARICOM Strategic Plan and development of the Digital Agenda 2025. A Commission on Human Resource Development is also working towards international competitiveness in the development, production and delivery of goods and services. These areas however require additional work and the Meeting identified the need for the full commitment of all stakeholders to complete the process.
Progress has been recorded in the technical work required for the development of an enabling macro-economic environment, including the areas of debt reduction, fiscal sustainability, investment promotion and export development. It was however noted that successful completion depends on increased support from the Regional Organs and Bodies which provide oversight, and the Member States.
Other areas which also require further action include some lingering elements of the movement of Community nationals such as recognition of the newer categories of skilled persons and recognition of some forms of qualification. There are concerns about the lack of harmonised processes and duplication in the implementation of the skilled certificates regime. The need for further training of public officers in the frontline of intra-regional travel has also been identified.
Areas for pending action and enhancement include an initiative to facilitate the establishment of and ease of doing business, including activation of a fully automated and connected Regional Companies Registry. Consumer protection, including a CARICOM Rapid Alert System for the Exchange of Information on (non-food) consumer goods (CARREX) is also getting attention this year. There will also be some focus on the development of an enabling environment for e-commerce across CARICOM, which is expected to contribute significantly to the CARICOM Single Market’s objective of trade expansion. There is also expected to be a complete review of the CARICOM Common External Tariff and Rules of Origin and the continued engagement with Community nationals through the public education campaign.
The various elements of the CSME journey are expected to meet the expectations of the CSME stakeholders, including the average CARICOM national who wants to travel easily across the Region, to stay and find employment and access a greater variety of regional goods and services; the businesspersons who, among other things, want easier means for doing business including cross border services, more profitable opportunities including production integration and increased markets for good and services; and the governments, with the CSME addressing the objectives of their Member State.
The Heads of Government, in their recent deliberations, agreed to the importance of continually reviewing the impact of the CSME in both achieving the objectives of the Revised Treaty, and on the lives of the people of the Community. The have decided that outstanding issues will be addressed at their next meeting in July 2017.