Caribbean News Politics

CARICOM leaders describe prevailing environment in the region as “the perfect storm”

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders acknowledging that the economic prospects for the Caribbean had worsened, said the current environment provides a perfect storm of a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a deepening debt crisis.

“In that regard, the regional leaders have agreed to the concept of a Caribbean Economic Recovery and Transformation (CERT) Plan, which has been devised by a regional team of experts under the leadership of Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley.

“Heads of Government called for a new Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) as well as the refinancing of COVID-related debt into long-term low interest instruments.  They also urged the early development and use of a Universal Vulnerability Index to determine countries’ eligibility for development assistance,” according to a communique issued here on Friday.

The leaders, who met virtually for their 41st regular summit on Thursday, also discussed in detail the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to have on their respective economies.

They have acknowledged “the relative success” of the 15-member grouping in the fight against the pandemic that was first detected in China last December and blamed for millions of deaths and infections worldwide. As of October 23, the 15-member CARICOM countries have recorded 955 deaths and 42, 765 positive cases.

The leaders said that the success to date in dealing with the virus is attributed “to the application of functional cooperation, one of the core principles of regional integration” and which was adopted from the outbreak of the virus’.

They also said that the continued vigilance and adherence to the regional public health approach being led by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) has also contributed to the region’s position on COVID-19.

”Heads of Government recognized the impact of COVID-19 on several sectors, including health, tourism, education, security and law enforcement, as well as the different phases of the pandemic which individual countries may be experiencing,” the communique said, noting that the leaders also recognized that in the absence of a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to be a grave public health, security and economic threat, and the regional approach must continue to be undertaken to manage these ongoing threats.

“In that regard, they further recognized that re-opening and recovery require a careful balance between reducing restrictive measures and ensuring adequate actions to reduce importation and spread of new cases.”

The regional leaders also welcomed the COVAX Facility as an initiative to secure access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that will afford countries the best opportunity to fast-track access to COVID-19 vaccines.

COVAX, formally known as The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, is a global collaboration for speeding up the development, manufacture and equitable distribution of new vaccines. Countries that sign on to COVAX will get access to a broad portfolio of new vaccine candidates to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

The communique noted that six member states have been identified for Advance Market Commitment – a financing instrument to support the procurement of vaccines for low and middle-income economies.

The leaders also noted that the remaining member states have committed to the COVAX Facility as self-financing countries, but were concerned at the limited criteria used to determine how countries accessed financing.

But the regional leaders “expressed deep concern that despite being in the midst of a global pandemic, the per capita income criterion was still being used to determine how countries accessed financing from the COVAX Facility” expressing appreciation to the European Union, CARPHA and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) for their support in facilitating the down payment for self-financing member states.

The leaders also mandated CARPHA to explore, in collaboration with the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat and PAHO, other financing options to cover additional costs for the vaccines.

CARPHA has also been mandated to meet with the Chief Medical Officers of member states to meet to refine the common technical standards for the CARICOM Travel Bubble and the entry of external arrivals, and report to the CARICOM Secretariat within 48 hours.

The leaders said that they have also acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the development challenges already confronting the grouping and that CARICOM states have been more deeply affected than other developing countries.

“Member states are now faced with a perfect storm of a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a deepening debt crisis.,” they said, adding that they have agreed on the need to protect lives, while restoring livelihoods through policies and measures for the gradual and safe return to economic activity.

“Heads of Government noted that the economic prospects for the Caribbean had worsened and cited a report by the International Monetary Fund that the Caribbean is the most affected globally by this pandemic, given that it is the most tourism and travel dependent region in the world,” the communique said, noting that they have noted that the pandemic would also exacerbate already high deficits and debt in many countries in the Region and building back better would have significant capital requirements which required a multi-faceted financing plan.

During their one-day, meeting, the regional leaders noted that over the past seven months, CARICOM member states had seen an “unprecedented” decline in tourist arrivals brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

They further noted that several Caribbean countries were still recovering from the devastating hurricanes of 2017 and 2019, a situation further compounded by the effects of the pandemic.

“Heads of Government recognized that the resulting reduction in tourism-related tax revenues and the implementation of needed COVID-19 containment, economic and social support mechanisms had placed unparalleled financial demands on Governments across the Community.

“Heads of Government recognized the critical importance of rebuilding the tourism industry and, in that regard, welcomed a proposal by the Government of St. Lucia for the preparation of a Joint Tourism Policy. They agreed to a Working Group to formulate the policy and report to the Conference by December 31, 2020.”

The leaders said that given the urgency of the matter, they have also agreed that a Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee (PMSC) on Tourism be established to provide political oversight for the preparation of the Joint Tourism Policy and other related issues.

Bahamas Prime Minister, Dr. Hubert Minnis, who has lead responsibility for tourism in the quasi CARICOM cabinet, will preside over the Sub-Committee which will include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica and St. Lucia.

The regional leaders were also critical of the decision by the European Union to continue to blacklist several member states, noting that the EU through the actions of the Council and the Commission, have “stepped up the economic assault on Small States despite the prevailing global pandemic which has forced the protracted shutdown of economic activity amidst predictions of a slower recovery than envisaged”.

They condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the continued blacklisting by the EU through unilaterally and arbitrarily determined standards, and in the absence of any meaningful prior consultation with the affected Members.

“Heads of Government noted that the European Union has steadfastly ignored that capacity constraints and other challenges at the national level continue to impact the speed and depth of reforms in tax administrations, and financial intelligence units in member states”.

The regional leaders said that “this disproportionate treatment of CARICOM states is a breach of the rights of CARICOM citizens, and called upon the European Council and European Commission to desist from this egregious practice.”

Trinidad and Tobago will host the 32nd Intersessional summit February 23-24 next year.

CMC

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