Caricom foreign ministers who met for several days at regional headquarters Guyana in the past week say they plan to utilize the services of academic and other experts from around the trade bloc in the future to help governments shape the region’s foreign policy and to assist them in dealing with various challenges.

At the meeting, which is likely to be the penultimate one before leaders converge in Antigua for their main annual summit in early July, the ministers called in three prominent regional academics to brainstorm a number of current and recurring issues. Not least among these are the ongoing changes in the key European Union corridor, the situation in Ukraine, the strengthening of relations with Cuba, stalled free trade negotiations with Canada and the future of the PetroCaribe concession oil initiative with Venezuela, among others.

Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said it had become necessary for the regional family to work more closely with regional exports outside the political arena to ensure regional interests are protected.

LaRocque said the region must note the narrowing of political and foreign policy interests of many of Caricom’s traditional partners and new ways of operations that make foreign policy coordination a more complex task then before.

“There is now a multiplicity of power and influence,” he argued, contending all the same that the U.S. is still the major and perhaps indispensable global leader as it still retains the foremost military power and has a relatively healthy economy that is the largest in the world. He also pointed to the situation in Europe, noting that while it is “emerging from its economic stagnation, the EU remains another major center of political and economic influence. The influence of the BRICS, (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) on the global economic system is increasing along with their strategic weight.” LaRocque tried to set the tone for the key meeting ahead of the leaders conference.

The ministerial meeting was held as fears rise and linger over the future of stalled talks for a free trade agreement with Canada. The talks have been dragging on for the past six years, and there is every indication that only major concessions from Canada could change things, especially as many of the smaller Eastern Caribbean island nations with little to trade have set themselves against the governments signing off on any deal and remain extremely lukewarm to any free trade agreement with Canada.

Other key items the ministers looked at included the move by the Dominican Republic to take away citizenship rights from about 200,000 people of Haitian descent living on the island of Hispaniola, which the two countries share.

The ministers say they “took note that a naturalization bill drafted by the president of the Dominican Republic in response to the constitutional court ruling on nationality of September 2013—which stripped nationality from some 200,000 Dominicans, a majority of them of Haitian descent, rendering them stateless—had been adopted by the Chamber of Deputies without amendment and sent to the Senate for adoption. The community will review the implications of the bill for those rendered stateless by the Constitutional Court ruling,” the ministers said.