Caribbean Community leaders were scheduled to meet this week in Barbados for their two day half yearly summit with agenda items like preparations for the corona virus high on their schedule.
But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who was down to attend the meeting has cancelled his first visit to the idyllic tourist island of about 300,000 people to attend to simmering protest back home linked to planned construction of a gas pipeline through indigenous peoples’ territories.
He will, instead, send Foreign Minister Francois Philippe Champagne to continue a planned lobbying effort of the 15-nation grouping to support Canada’s efforts for a seat on the powerful Security Council of the United Nations.
As Barbados switches from focus on the prime minister, attention is being placed on the agenda of the summit as there are a number of pressing issues for leaders to discuss including fears of the coronavirus making landfall in a region which, to a large extent, depends on travel and tourism for its survival.
Almost every major hospital in the community has set aside special quarantine areas to cater to cases and airports and other entry ports have established screening systems for people arriving. Health ministers have already met in emergency session. Officials say the presence of the virus in the nearby U.S. as well as deaths, now brings the issue closer to home. Governments must prepare for it even as a few dozen people in several countries are in quarantine and are being monitored by doctors. An outbreak in the region could devastate travel especially for the winter peak season that runs at least until mid-April.
The bloc’s Guyana-based secretariat said that the leaders will “deliberate on a regional approach to the virus as well as the continuing challenges posed by non-communicable diseases.”
Additionally, crime and security issues are also to be looked at in depth. Police chiefs continue to complain about smuggling of high powered weapons from the U.S. and the South American mainland. For the year so far, Trinidad has recorded an astonishing murder rate of 74 deaths, many linked to illegal guns in the hands of gang members, drug trafficking and money laundering. Parts of western Jamaica have been placed on state of emergency lock down and curfews because of runaway violence also linked to gangs. The secretariat said that popular issues like the elimination of mobile phone roaming charges and establishing closer ties with the African continent will be given serious consideration. Part of the reason for the lobby to end roaming charges has to do with efforts to treat the community as one local bloc with a single market system in place and a single economy in the future. This could include the use of a single currency.
Countries like Belize and Antigua as well as Guyana will be active during discussions on moves by U.S. commercial banks in recent years to sever correspondent banking ties with counterparts in the Caribbean because of money anti-laundering pressures from western governments. The U.S. banks have complained that implementing a special system to increase scrutiny of transactions from the region is just not worth it. A number of them have simply stopped changing checks and completing transactions from banks in the grouping in recent years, causing severe discomfort in the banking sector.
And in the wake of a late 2019 swing by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo Addo through the region, the two sides are preparing for a Caricom-Africa summit later this year aimed at strengthening trade and other ties. One key hope is for the private sector to establish nonstop air links to the continent as passengers currently have to fly to North America or Europe to travel to Africa when a simple six hour trip from Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana or Suriname across the Atlantic could suffice.