Caribbean leaders discuss crime, trade

Bert Wilkinson | 6/29/2017, 9:03 a.m.
Caribbean leaders head to the Eastern Caribbean spice isle of Grenada next week for their main annual summit
Caribbean nations ClipArtBest

Caribbean leaders head to the Eastern Caribbean spice isle of Grenada next week for their main annual summit with uncertainties about how Britain’s impending departure from the European Union will affect trade and other relations with the bloc of nations going forward. They will also have a decent look at how the region’s own single trading market is progressing.

Leaders from as far south as Guyana and Suriname on South America’s Caribbean coast and from as far north as the Bahamas and Belize in Central America will participate in formal opening ceremonies Tuesday before getting down to two days of plenaries near St. George’s, the capital, Wednesday and Thursday.

Officials say that apart from the recurring issues such as Guyana’s perennial border controversy with Venezuela and the one involving Belize and Guatemala among others, leaders these days have been demanding that issues such as crime and security, free trade and tourism must at all times be on an agenda of any meeting of CARICOM at their level.

In this regard, some captains of business in the region have been complaining about what they claim are higher than usual levels of bureaucracy in the free market system, suggesting the bureaucracy is slowing down free trade.

“We need bureaucracy to be as minimal as possible to allow the free flow of goods and services,” said Ramesh Ramdeen, chief executive of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers’ Association. “We need our government officials to get this thing sorted out so we could engage and trade with one another. There is no reason why Trinidad and Tobago’s import food bill should be close to $4 billion or $5 billion. We bring in a lot of those goods from outside the region when right here within the region—Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti—some of those goods can be sourced. But we cannot trade because we haven’t sorted out the Sanitary Phytosanitary issues.”

Free travel for professionals and other categories of persons in the region also has an impact on free trade, but this issue has been dogged over the decades by fears in some countries of being swamped.

Just recently, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad paid a state visit to Jamaica after tensions had boiled over between the two countries. Officials in successive Jamaican administrations are of the view that Trinidadian immigration authorities unfairly reject Jamaicans at entry ports, profiling them as suspected drug mules, prostitutes or intended immigrants.

Leaders of the two countries are likely to have sidebar meetings at the summit to review the state of play.

Other key agenda issues will, of course, involve discussions on the fact that some system would have to be worked out to govern trade and aid relations with the U.K. as it has started negotiations with the European Union about withdrawing from that union, so the umbrella rules will no longer apply once it exits.

And not surprisingly, officials say, is the specter of no planned discussions on relations with the U.S., given the lukewarm approach of the Trump administration to things Caribbean.