The 3rd meeting of the Economic Affairs Council (EAC) of the OECS, which convened at the Radisson Beach Hotel in Grand Anse on Monday, stood in a moment of silence in honour of late Cuban former President, Fidel Castro, who has contributed significantly to the development of trade in the Eastern Caribbean.
The Cuban revolutionary who came to power in a military uprising in 1959 and stepped down as President in 2008, due to ill health, died last Friday night at age 90.
Castro has made available thousands of scholarships to several Caribbean islands.
In welcoming participants to the 3rd Meeting of the EAC in Grand Anse, the birthplace of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), which was endorsed by the Heads of Government at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of CARICOM in July 1989, Outgoing EAC Chairman, Grenada’s Trade Minister, Oliver Joseph, who called the moment of silence to order, reminded his counterparts of the need to continue building strong relationships with Cuba and strengthening ties of integration with and the region as a whole.
He told delegates that in realising the ideals of the 1989 Grand Anse declaration, “the OECS Economic Union must embrace our destiny as a truly integrated Caribbean civilisation prepared to meet the world…by forging ahead with deeper and stronger trade and investment ties with Cuba.”
According to Minister Joseph, there is no doubt in his mind that EAC must now play a leading role in shaping this agenda and delivering to the authority the power “to engage Cuba as an outcome of this 3rd
meeting in Grand Anse.”
The two-day meeting was attended by trade ministers and representatives from various OECS countries, in person and via video conferencing.
Among them was Director General of the OECS, St Lucian Dr. Didacus Jules, who addressed the opening ceremony and reminded delegates this is a very challenging economic period for the sub-region resulting from the 2008 global recession, coupled with the effects of Climate Change.
He stressed that against this backdrop economic integration ought to be a natural response “to the challenges that are posed by our association of smallness.”
He said, “the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union (ECCU), is quite small with its population of 625,000 persons (representing) only 3.5 and 7.6% of the respective CARICOM aggregates as CARICOM itself is considered a small regional integration arrangement and therefore, the OECS Economic Union is therefore minute.
“Simply put, it means that the OECS member states have to work harder and be more innovative to extract and maximise the gains from integration,” he added.
Dr. Jules noted that the “economies must naturally arise from shared skills…in the same way they are in the European Union with over half a billion persons.”
He acknowledged that this “has not prevented us in the past from achieving real and meaningful results from integration, and pointed to co-operation in areas like the single currency and banking, high court, civil aviation regulatory systems in telecommunications, and bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Jules stressed that “people need to feel integration not as a promise that is future based (but as) an active present reality that unleashes potential energy unhindered by internal barriers to competition and consumer choice”.
Incoming EAC Chairman, Minister of the Environment, Agriculture and Trade in Montserrat, Claude Hogan, said he is heartened by the OECS march to integration.
He reminded his counterparts that “the integration movement is needed now more than ever in the context of Brexit and given the backdrop of the economic challenges” being faced.
“We need to take more urgent steps to implement for example the other parts of the free movement of people…we still have outstanding and are discussing the right to free movement that would be afforded to others who travel with our nationals, Hogan said.
“We need to look further at those harmonised policies in terms of social security and allowing that to be portable so that citizens have the security of knowing that when they work anywhere in the Union they will get taken cared off in their senior pension years and naturally of course, we also need to look at the question of accreditation skills,” he added.
The OECS groups the islands of Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & The Grenadines.