(CMC) – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary-General, Irwin LaRocque, Monday said the 15-member regional integration grouping had made “some significant advances” during the past 12 months and was looking forward to the final year of the strategic plan to re-position CARICOM.
In an end-of-year message, LaRocque said that CARICOM member countries had demonstrated a willingness and commitment to strengthen the integration movement in 2018 by signing various agreements and legal instruments.
“As is to be expected the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) has been at the forefront of our activities, culminating in the St Ann’s Declaration on the CSME issued following a Special Meeting of the Heads of Government in Port-of-Spain in December,” he said of the initiative that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the majority of the 15-member grouping.
LaRocque said in June he had convened a broad-based consultation with stakeholders including the private sector, labour, non-governmental organisations, youth and the media here to get their views on the CSME.
“Their positive and constructive views on how to improve the operations were much appreciated and factored in to the plans for advancing implementation,” he said, noting that so successful was the session that the regional leaders have requested that such a consultation be convened annually.
He said to maximise the potential of the event, it is expected that national consultations will be held with the same purpose.
“A vital aspect of both the CSME and the entire integration process is the access to efficient and affordable transportation,’ LaRocque said, noting that “a huge step was taken in that regard with the approval and opening for signature of the new CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA)”.
He said so far eight member states have signed the agreement, which is aimed at improving connectivity and facilitating movement of people in the region as well as increasing trade in goods and services.
LaRocque said that steps are also being taken to reinforce the operation of the region’s security mechanisms “as, among other things, we seek to ensure the integrity of the regime allowing the free movement of CARICOM nationals”.
He said the issue of crime and security has also engaged our youth who have been working assiduously on the Youth Advocacy and Action Agenda on Violence Prevention.
“They have conducted internet based discussions and live workshops as well as surveys and interviews to create this agenda. It represents what they believe needs to be done to tackle the issues of crime and violence in our communities,” LaRocque said, noting that “his is a very significant initiative on a most relevant issue which will be presented to a Youth Summit in Guyana in January”
The region’s top public servant said in 2018, CARICOM resumed its leadership role in the fight against chronic non-communicable diseases with the six priorities on which the region advocated during the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs finding favour and being part of the Outcome Document. These included implementing policies geared towards preventing childhood obesity which is of serious concern to the region.
He said the region’s young people have also drawn to his attention an often overlooked NCD – that of mental health – when he had an interactive session with them from across the region, organised by the CARICOM Youth Ambassador corps last July.
“Mental illness is another NCD that we have to confront,” he said, adding that as CARICOM approaches the last year of the five-year Strategic Plan, the reform process to help re-position CARICOM is moving on apace.
“We have instilled a results oriented culture complete with tools for measuring and evaluating our progress and a strategic business plan for the Secretariat is being finalized. We are seeking to review our Regional Institutions to optimise the benefits that could be obtained from those specialized bodies. The imperative is to improve the service to our citizens and ensure they feel the positive impact of integration in their daily life,” LaRocque added.