NASSAU, Bahamas, March 10, 2008 - Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads have agreed to temporarily suspend the Common External Tariff (CET) to give regional governments the go ahead to drop the duty on some goods in order to help reduce the cost of living in their respective countries.
Meeting in the Bahamas over the weekend for their 19th Inter-Sessional meeting, CARICOM heads received the list of items that the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) had approved for suspension of the CET with immediate effect for a period of two years, ending March 4th, 2010.
The CET provides a harmonized coding system and a consistent tariff rate structure for the importation of goods from outside CARICOM. It sets minimum and maximum duty rates for all member countries.
St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas indicated that "national governments have been advised that they should take appropriate action so as to safeguard the interest of their citizens with regards to the price of goods and services."
"It's really up to the different governments to apply what I believe would be the right thing after consultations with the private sector and their representatives at the national level," he added.
The issue of crime and security also took centre stage at the meeting and a communiqué issued at the end the two-day meeting indicated that a special summit on crime in Trinidad and Tobago will be held early next month to fully explore the issue "and to agree to a Strategy and Action Plan to stem the rising tide of violent criminality."
Progress of CSME
In their discussions on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the leaders noted a report on the establishment of the single economy and the progress made towards making the CARICOM Development Fund (CDF) and Agency operational.
"Heads of Government noted the scope of the fund which would retain the CSME-related special and differential policy measures as a significant component but, for effective insertion in today's global economy, would include a more outwardly-oriented component," the communiqué indicated. "This would include the promotion of investment, improvement of enterprise competitiveness, development of infrastructure and technical and financial assistance."
Member states were also urged to make their contributions in order to expedite the start up of the CDF.
Although leaders said they were satisfied with the progress of some aspects of the integration, particularly the free movement of skilled nationals, member states were urged to ensure that all the necessary measures were put in place for the effective exercise of these rights.
"In that regard, where the legal process has not been completed, it was agreed that eligible CARICOM nationals must be facilitated administratively," the communiqué noted.
The regional heads also expressed regret that limited progress had been made with respect to the development of a protocol on Contingent Rights which affect nationals exercising the right of free movement. They also expressed regret that in many Member States, national consultations are yet to be held or completed and urged Member States to ensure that these talks are completed by early April.
The discussions on the CSME came against a call from the CARICOM Secretary General, Edwin Carrington for a "unity of purpose and action to achieve the goals of the integration movement", as he warned that "time was not on the side of the region as it sought to advance the interests of the people of the Community."
"Time is not on our side if we are to safeguard our security. Time is not on our side if we are to achieve the goal of a single market and economy in the time frame that you as heads of government have set and time is not on our side if we are to achieve the Community for all," he said in his address at the opening of the meeting.
The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which the region will officially sign in a few months and which is the focus of review by some member states, was also brought up for discussion.
The heads committed themselves to taking the necessary steps to complete these internal consultations to facilitate signature and provisional applications of the agreement by 30 June.
Mr Carrington said he hoped the lessons learnt from the recently concluded negotiations would strengthen the region as it moves towards upcoming new negotiations.
The leaders also discussed the matters of functional cooperation, health and tourism among other issues.