Chairman of the Caribbean Community, Prime Minister of Dominica, His Excellency Roosevelt Skerrit
President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, His Excellency Brigadier David Granger and the Secretary-General of CARICOM, Ambassador Irwin La Roque
Closing press conference: 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government held at the Pegasus Hotel
6th July, 2016
His Excellency Roosevelt Skerrit
Honourable Prime Minister of Dominica:
Let me first of all recognise the presence of His Excellency, President Brigadier David Granger; of course the Ambassador, Irwin La Roque, Secretary-General of CARICOM, and to you the media.
First of all, I must apologise. I think the scheduled time was 5pm, earlier today, but with these things we have no control over the extent of the discussions, but we will all agree that we have just concluded a most successful meeting, which was held over the last two days.
We addressed a number of matters in a bid to keep the integration process moving.
In respect to CSME, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, we engaged our attention and received an update and we, the Heads, look forward to a comprehensive review, which we will consider at the Inter-Sessional meeting next February.
Now, that review is in an effort to take the process forward and not to change any or to revisit any of the actions that we have taken thus far to strengthen the integration process. In the meantime, they are going to intensify public education campaign in member states, aimed at all levels of the society.
The Programme will highlight the benefits and provisions of the CSME. The CARICOM Commission on Economy also reported to us and set out several recommendations being that fiscal sustainability, private sector stimulation, improving the business regulatory environment, moving towards sustainable growth and resource mobilisation. We are fully committed to implementing all elements of the CSME regime as we remain convinced it is our only option to achieving sustainable growth and development in the Caribbean region.
The issue of security also occupied a very big chunk of the time allotted for discussions over the last couple of days, and we would have worked up to date on major issues with respect to the Region’s security and at greater ways to deepen and strengthen cooperation in this area.
We approved the review of the CARICOM’s Crime and Security Strategy (CCSS) and discussed ways of ensuring that there was coordination between national security plans and the strategy. Impacts continue to play an important role in our effort to address crime and security and we really appreciate the work in this regard.
Significantly, we agreed that urgent steps should be taken for completion of a number of critical regional security agreements. We have placed as priority the completion of CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty. This is a matter which we have been discussing for some time now. I believe the Heads are resolved to having this particular agreement entered into, or treaty rather, entered into before the end of 2016. This, we believe, will enhance the security of our Region and is a matter in which Heads are fully in support of.
With respect to free movement, we had a very spirited engagement on the issue of free movement and one of the most significant issues was that we have to address the concerns of citizens in taking advantage of the free movement regime which we’ve approved. And even though the overwhelming majority of citizens are moving throughout the Community without hindrance, we do have instances of denial of entry at our ports and this is a matter, we believe, [that] has to be addressed and addressed urgently as we are aware of the negative views that surface when these instances occur.
We have guidance from the Caribbean Court of Justice as well as from decisions which this Conference has taken. We have mandated the CARICOM Secretariat to bring together the Chief Immigration Officers, the CARICOM Ambassadors and other relevant officials to fashion a solution to the issue because we believe that the free movement of people is an integral part of the Single Market.
Health related issues continue to be of serious concern to us as they affect the development of the Region. The level of non-communicable diseases instances remained a disturbing factor even as the 10th anniversary of the declaration of uniting to fight the non-communicable diseases draws near. Some progress we must admit, has been made but it has been uneven and we have agreed to address issues such as the banning of smoking in public places; trade related measures, banning the advertisement of potentially harmful foods, which specifically target children; and elevating taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and trans fat.
Heads of Government endorsed the Every Caribbean Girl/Every Caribbean Woman Initiative intended to address key sexual and reproductive health concerns of girls and women in the Caribbean. The objectives of the ECGECW are to reduce teenage pregnancy, prevent cervical cancer and eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
In the latter regard, we have to increase our advocacy efforts in order to ensure we maintain the level of support needed to end the AIDS epidemic in the Region, but we must all agree as citizens in the Caribbean Community that we have a personal responsibility (each of us) to maintain healthy lifestyles. The sheer cost of treating those diseases is becoming prohibitive for governments across the Caribbean and, therefore, we have to be mindful of what we consume and also of the need for daily physical activities.
I would now invite His Excellency, the President of Guyana, to draw to your attention other critical matters which we discussed over the last two days. Your Excellency.
His Excellency Brigadier David Granger
President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Thank you, Prime Minister. The four areas I intend to address deal largely with the relations between CARICOM and the rest of the world, the international dimension, if you can call it that. In the first instance: I would like to address my attention to is correspondence banking. The Conference discussed the latest developments with respect to the loss of corresponding banking arrangements that were severely affecting Member States. It remains a very serious issue, but we must find a solution given its effect on our financial and trading systems in particular.
You would recall, ladies and gentlemen of the media, we had the opportunity to meet with the President of Chile, Madam Michelle Bachelet. We had an excellent discussion with Her Excellency when she visited the Conference. The Community renewed its long-standing political cooperation relations with Chile.
Chile has been a long supportive country of the Community through its institution and capacity building projects in a wide variety of areas. We agreed to heighten political engagements and that technical cooperation should be expanded through climate change Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and trade cooperation.
The third area of CARICOM’s relation with the rest of the world was the CARICOM-Cuba relationships. While we are pleased at the ongoing normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, at the same time we reiterate our call for the lifting of the USA trade and economic embargo against Cuba.
In that new environment in Cuba, we recognise the need to seize the trade, business and investment opportunities including those in tourism. We agreed that every effort will be made to conclude negotiations for a Second Protocol to the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement to allow for it to be signed before the end of 2016.
And finally of course, the word that has been on everybody’s lips for the last fortnight – Brexit. As I expected, the implications for Brexit for the community were discussed. Although that situation unfolds daily, we in the Caribbean Community are confident that the United Kingdom and the European Union will remain strong and valued partners of the Caribbean Community.
His Excellency Roosevelt Skerrit
Honourable Prime Minister of Dominica:
We also declared our own sentiments on the passing of former Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, and we have approved (it should be a term) and the Heads recognised his sterling contribution to, not only his country Trinidad and Tobago, but the Region and we recall a number of very important measures which he put in place. He is largely responsible for causing security to become the fourth pillar of the Caribbean Community and we have taken a decision at the Conference to have the flag at the Secretariat flown at half-staff on Friday and Saturday in recognition of the contribution the former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Patrick Manning, made to the Caribbean Community.
Of course, we discussed cricket and we have agreed to create one Prime Ministerial Sub-committee on Cricket. As you know there were two before – one on governance issues and one on the larger issues confronting cricket. So there is a new committee on cricket, which will be mandated to examine all matters relating to the development of cricket which is a very wide area of concentration.
We also received reports on the Belize-Guatemala relations and we have issued a stand-alone statement on this and of course the press would receive that statement. And we have also received an update on the Guyana-Venezuela border issue and other matters and we have also decided to issue a stand-alone statement to highlight our concerns on these two border issues confronting our Member States.
We received an update from the President of Suriname on the issues relating to Suriname and…of course we have thanked him for the update on the report. And the Heads of Government have maintained that we all have to respect the Constitution and the actions of the Assembly in keeping with the Constitution of the Republic of Suriname.
This is an internal matter and we have offered whatever assistance the Community can provide to Suriname; and that Suriname determines, in an attempt to resolve whatever challenges the Government and people of Suriname are confronting at this time, but we reiterate our solidarity and respect of the rule of law and for the provisions of the Constitution of Suriname. We shall end here and accept questions from yourselves.
Media representative: What systems will be put in place to ensure that the decisions taken here are placed into effect with…to CARICOM…. what systems will be put in place to ensure that these decisions are implemented?
His Excellency Roosevelt Skerrit: Very good question and it is an issue which all of us here have examined. The point is at various levels we have to ensure that when decisions are taken, we take the necessary action, especially at the national level because a number of the matters require national implementation and we need to ensure that our ministers meet and we take responsibility for it. We are not blaming anybody; we take full responsibility for it that if ministers of ICT are mandated to examine the market to advise the Heads, then they must make themselves available to discuss this matter.
Ministers of Finance, attorney-generals of the Caribbean Community must be made to advance a number of the very critical legal issues to advance the integration process. We have given the Conference the assurances that we will ensure that our ministers avail themselves for consultation on those critical matters. And of course, what we have started to do is to not leave it to the ministers and others, functionaries or otherwise, to set the timetable.
So the Heads will be setting the timetable and indicating, for example, Ministers of the ICT must meet before the end of September 2016 to consider the provision for the single ICT space in the Region and to advise us at our February 2017 meeting in Guyana. So I think it’s a matter of monitoring and ensuring that we follow through on some of the actions that we have taken at the Conference level.
By the same token too, we must not attempt to bite too much at one time because we all have limited capacities within our public services and therefore we need to do a review as indicated in the CSME where we are, what are the actions we have taken and what are the outstanding considerations to advancing our move towards a greater integration of the Caribbean Community. Thank you.
Media representative: President Granger, I’m interested, sir, in finding out if you can provide any detail as to the progress that has already been made in these talks with the border issues…between Venezuela and Guyana. And what would your administration like to see happen through the same… (inaudible)
President David Granger: Thank you for that question. If I can take you back, I think we made a breakthrough last year at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Bridgetown.
It came soon after Venezuela promulgated a decree, which affected the sea space of several Caribbean States, including Suriname and of course Barbados, Grenada and other eastern Caribbean countries. Because of the action of CARICOM last year, Venezuela was forced to withdraw that decree although it issued a fresh decree.
We have, therefore, been able to build on CARICOM’s solidarity and what we saw on this occasion at this Conference, was an iteration of Caribbean solidarity and support of Guyana’s position and Guyana’s commitment to the United Nations Secretary-General process in seeking a juridical settlement.
So what I would say happened at this Conference is that CARICOM gave its support to Guyana’s demand that the matter be settled peacefully through a juridical process initiated, of course, by a decision by the United Nations Secretary-General so that’s where we stand. The Community stands united behind Guyana and Guyana is calling for a juridical settlement and the United Nations Secretary-General is the person to make a decision, which would lead to that settlement.
So we hope that by the time the United Nations Secretary-General demits office at the end of this year we would have had information confirming that we are going to go to court to settle this longstanding issue; it’s something that has affected us for the last 50 years.
Media representative: This is a follow-up, sir. So that juridical process – does that then supersede the Good Officers’ arrangement that had … (inaudible)
President David Granger: No, that process has been exhausted. So what we know the Secretary-General has done, he’s appointed an officer from his Office in order to shepherd us forward. It is not a Good Officer process, it is perhaps a representative of the UNSG’s office who is negotiating or who is shuttling between Caracas and Georgetown in order to get agreement on the way forward, but Guyana has signalled its intention to seek a juridical settlement so it’s not the old Good Officer process, that’s finished.
Media representative: Mr Chairman, on the (inaudible)
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit: We have discussed the matter extensively. The Secretariat were advised on foreign policy, has prepared an extensive dossier on all of the issues relative to the United Kingdom decision to exit the European Union. This is an involving process and there is nothing we can do to deal with that particular issue, that’s a matter between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is a negotiating process, they have triggered Article 50 so one, we would have to wait to see the ultimate or the end result of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
What we are maintaining is that the Caribbean Community will continue to have excellent relations with the United Kingdom on its own and continue to have excellent relations with the European Union-less the United Kingdom. Of course there’ll be implications for us, we will have to study those implications, but for now the Caribbean Community is cognizant of the implications and of course they are both positive and potentially negative implication. But one has to wait for the final negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom in respect to what is the final agreement that they would have arrived at and then we will be in a better position to assess the true impact on the Caribbean Community, but we have had extensive and traditional relations with the United Kingdom.
From our perspective the United Kingdom was a trusted and known advocate for the Caribbean Community within the councils in the European Union. They not being there, then we will have to identify one of our traditional European friends, whether it is Germany or France or [The] Netherlands to continue advocate matters of concern to us.
So it’s an ongoing process and one cannot tell you well, these are the five things which I’ll do or these are the eight things we must do. We have to wait for the negotiation to take place and of course for the conclusion of those negotiations.
Media representative: Still on Brexit sir. At the beginning of the opening Ceremony, the St. Vincent Prime Minister spoke about Caribbean leaders capitalising on the UK’s exit from the European Union rather than lamenting on it. Jamaica has said that it is already moving ahead in terms of benefiting from this entire arrangement so how is it that CARICOM is going to benefit …? (inaudible) … how best we can maximise on this current event?
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit: As I said we have to wait for the final negotiations. We have no control of the negotiations. We don’t know when the United Kingdom will trigger Article 50, what will be the European Commission; what are the issues they will negotiate on. So there have been bantering taking place in the public domain between European officials and British officials but one would have to wait.
What Jamaica has said or what the Prime Minister of St. Vincent has said is ‘look, we have to seek to position ourselves, to not be less of or at a disadvantage as a result of the actions of the British people’. We have no control over the actions of the British people, but we will continue to enjoy excellent relations between ourselves and the European Union and the UK and ourselves, but let us not make it look like the Caribbean Community is now coming to an end or will cease to exist or there will be no trade taking place as a result of Brexit.
It has brought serious shock, not only to the United Kingdom but to Europe and to the world, but we believe that in time things will stabilise and we will be in a position to determine what are the new arrangements we can have with the United Kingdom and how can we carve out a special relationship with the United Kingdom.
Media representative: Sir, CARICOM … (inaudible). Is there no need for CARICOM to be a little more proactive as it relates to international developments?
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit: I can tell you that COFCOR [Caricom Council for Community and Foreign Relations] looked at the matter since May of 2016 before the vote. I think with any elections the vote on the referendum is no different to having elections in Dominica or Guyana. I mean you have an election, there were views that those who were on the leave campaign would have… but not to the extent that would have caused Britain to leave the European Union. There are those who felt that those who are pushing for an ‘in’ or remain remaining would have been successful.
There an elections result, we’ve been looking at this thing since before May. There was a meeting of the COFCOR in May to assess the situation and Heads are continuing to discuss the matter. It’s an involving process, it’s not something that has ended and that’s it. You still have another phase to go after the negotiations in respect to the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
So I don’t want us to make it look like this is the only issue confronting us in the world and that we have to gaze on this particular issue and lose focus on other critical issues like climate change, the correspondent banking and the risking of our Region. There are other critical issues confronting us and will have even greater impact on the Caribbean Community than the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. I’m not sure whether President Granger would like to add further to this point.
President David Granger: Thank you, Chairman. There has been some confusion even in Britain about the consequences of the referendum, so it’s really too soon to tell. The stock markets have been affected and obviously many of the agreements, which the British people had been engaged in and looking forward to developing with the rest of Europe will now be frozen and perhaps some of them will have to be dropped in due course.
We saw photographs with young people holding up banners marked “I’m a European”. So, Britain is really divided and even the social consequences have not been calculated but many British, I mean, when you look at the vote it’s not as if there was a massive majority calling for exit.
It was very close and people are still wondering whether the right decision has been made. I’m a Head of a Government and it’s not for me to decide but the British people have voted, but I would say that it is too soon for the Caribbean to say what the consequences will be for our economy. We have trade relations, but we also have other relations because we are a part of the Commonwealth and I’m sure those relations will continue.
Speaker: …one final question.
Media representative: Mr. Chairman… could you say what led to the decision to have the (inaudible)… and how do you see (inaudible)
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit: Well, certainly the Arrest Warrant Treaty would enhance law enforcement ability to address the matter of across the border crime. So if we’re to enter into this treaty, if someone from Dominica were to commit a crime in Dominica and move to St. Vincent then the Vincentian authorities would be able to have him arrested and repatriated to Dominica to face the charges.
So certainly there would be enhanced cooperation between and among law authorities; it would give you another ability to be able to apprehend those who are of interest to law authorities or the judicial system.
In respect to Suriname, as I understand it, there is a particular challenge in respect to its Constitution, but the way we understand it is that if a Surinamese were to commit a crime in Jamaica and flee to Suriname then he could be prosecuted for that crime in Jamaica in Suriname, but what we have asked our legal advisers to do is to engage the Surinamese authorities to better appreciate the Constitutional provisions or the limitations of the Constitution in respect to Suriname’s ability to engage in the treaty.
So once they study this Bill, they’ll get back to us and to advise on how best Suriname would benefit from its participation, if at all, from this Arrest Warrant Treaty. But the Arrest Warrant Treaty is a critical aspect of it. The mutual legal assistance agreement between and among Member States of the Caribbean Community; the sharing of intelligence, the joint training of personnel, all of these elements we believe would certainly enhance the collaboration and co-operation among law enforcement entities and ensuring that we can enhance the security of our Region.
Speaker: Okay, thank you very much Mr. Chairman, Mr. President and Secretary General. Thank you very much members of the media.