Free travel for more groups in Caricom bloc

Bert Wilkinson | 7/11/2019, 11:06 a.m.

One of the main bugbears to progress in the 15-nation Caribbean Community has been linked to the slow pace of implementation of rules regarding free movement and resettlement of various categories of workers but leaders say they are moving to improve the work pace.

At last week’s main leaders summit in idyllic St. Lucia, the meeting decided to add additional tiers of workers to those categories which already have the right to travel to, resettle and open business in any of the countries which participate in the single free market trading system.

Going forward, security guards and agricultural workers will join media and health workers, musicians, aviation workers and other categories of Caribbean nationals enjoying this right.

The matter was extensively discussed during the three-day meeting and has been one of the main recurring themes and agenda items of the two yearly summit for decades. Still some leaders are not satisfied with the progress made so far and want the pace to be stepped up.

The issue has now been handed down to the bloc’s council for human and social sub committee for refinement. The leaders say that all the arrangements for the new category of workers to enjoy free movement and resettlement in any country of their choice should be administratively settled by December. The next stage would be for various parliaments to complete law amendments by July of next year.

The leaders ruled that the sub committee must “expedite its work on the definition and qualification requirements in order for member states to meet the stipulated timelines” as time is of the essence and frustration is building in the region regarding the relatively slow level of progress in this area.

Meanwhile, the meeting also spent considerable time discussing the habit by the European Union to blacklist Caribbean countries with offshore financial services, accusing them of facilitating money laundering and tax avoidance activities.

Bloc Chairman and St. Lucian Prime Minister Allan Chastanet accused the EU of using the blacklisting system as a strategy to crush the offshore sector even though this is a key lifeline industry for many of the countries involved.

Belize and Trinidad remain firmly on the EU’s blacklist despite efforts by authorities to comply with ever changing rules by that bloc. The bloc said that Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts, The Bahamas, Associate Members, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and Cayman Islands are all on a so-called gray list which officials say is a monitoring system. Dominica, which was devastated by two major natural disasters in 2015 and 2017, was the latest to be grey-listed June 6.

“The question now is, how do we as developing countries meet the requirements of a just tax regime while maintaining our fiscal sovereignty. We must as a region be committed to a high standard of governance but this cannot cross the line and infringe on our competitiveness. As a region we should rebel against the use of a blacklist that permanently damages our reputations. There is absolutely no justification for this methodology. Some serious introspection is required on our part,” Chastanet said.

In their final communiqué, the leaders argued that continued blacklisting serves only to give the impression that the region is a “high risk area” and this has led to international correspondent banks cutting ties with those in the Caribbean in recent years.

“Heads of government expressed the view that such behavior undermined global rule-making and the relevant multilateral systems. They emphasized the need for member states to continue their vigilance in regard to the various processes underway in the European Union in order to protect their national interests.”