Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2022. 11:15 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Putting their best foot forward for the Jewel, Prime Minister John Briceño and Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Dr Carla Barnett formally welcomed fellow heads of government to Belize at the Opening of the Thirty-Third Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.
Dr Barnett said that as we all learn to live with COVID-19, the Community must navigate issues of vaccination, and shocks to the economy and education systems will test our continued resilience as a Caribbean Community.
A target of the Community is increasing trade within the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and particularly in agriculture, private sector initiatives and tourism through joint marketing from 16 to 18 percent of total trade to 25 percent by 2025.
“The pandemic has forced us to bring forward the future with respect to the widespread use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). We can no longer delay implementation of the Regional Digital Development Strategy, including the Roadmap towards the Single ICT Space. E-government and e-commerce are for the here and now. The application of technology is what will underpin all our development efforts,” Dr Barnett said, going on to discuss the retooling of institutional support and looking forward to building on critical achievements as the “foundation for building a resilient Caribbean Community based on the rule of law, participatory governance, social, economic and environmental resilience, in short, a place in which our people live in a safe, viable and prosperous society.”
The Prime Minister detailed the example of San Pedro Town and Ambergris Caye as a microcosm of the challenges faced by small islands and low-lying coastal developing states. Picturesque beaches are eroding to the rising sea; the Barrier Reef struggles with coral bleaching and expansion tests the limits of the island’s capacity, but San Pedranos fished and transplanted coral and reclaimed the beach, to solve the problems they did not cause.
The world feels its way uncertainly, according to Briceño, in the backdrop of challenges old and new, from the pandemic to poverty and inequality to the current war between Russia and Ukraine which he condemned as an “unjustified invasion” in “flagrant violation of International Law.”
CARICOM and states like Belize continue to fight their way out of economic recession and rising poverty and the robust economic recovery predicted for 2022 appears to be slowing according to revised forecasts, exacerbated by being locked out of debt relief initiatives by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
“Therefore, we must be more strategic and coordinated in our advocacy. We must demand an immediate reform of the international financial system. Demand urgent climate action, and immediate access to vaccines,” Briceño challenged.
He called for CARICOM to be reminded of, and return, to its roots in the Georgetown Accord of 1973, “to rekindle that founding vision, both as to the scale of its ambition for our integration, and the speed with which we need to achieve its consolidation. Integration is the instrument by which we have committed to advance our development and quite frankly, for our small states, integration is really the only modality we have.”
Even those who say it is going too fast or too slow do not deny it: “Integration is not only a sine qua non for our development; it is also imperative for our recovery,” Briceño summed up.
“I propose, Colleagues, that during 2022 we embark on a journey of regional consultation so that we can mark the anniversary of the Accord with the adoption of a repurposed, re-imagined, revitalized accord that presents an irreversible prescription designed to achieve our Region’s just objectives. The future holds few guarantees, but our common destiny compels us to walk boldly into the future together. Secure in the belief that the promise of a greater tomorrow is ours.”
Prime Minister Briceño proclaimed himself “…hopeful…optimistic…confident” about CARICOM’s future and its ability to “dive deeply into our reservoir of resilience, ingenuity and creativity to elaborate our own path for development and prosperity with trust and faith in each other.”
The details of the discussion over the next two days will be revealed at a press conference Wednesday evening.
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