Is CSME the key to the region’s recovery?

ST. JOHN’S, ANTIGUA — The ambitious CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) initiative, first introduced in 1989 but yet to be enacted, could be the key to the Caribbean’s post-COVID recovery, regional leaders are suggesting.

The CSME allows for free movement of skilled workers, services and goods throughout agreeing member states, and CARICOM heads of government are asserting that the time has come for it to be made a priority now.

According to Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and former CARICOM chairman, the overall focus of the region is on “jobs and jabs”, and strengthening CSME would be a boon.

“The jobs will come from the uptake of the economy, to the extent that we get any of it going, and there are proposals before us for strengthening the CSME — proposals in relation to the CARICOM Commission on the Economy and the initiatives in tourism and in agriculture,” Gonsalves said.

“But immediately, we have to address this issue of jobs. But jobs are really going to come back in a large sense when all the countries in the world — our source markets, particularly for tourism — that these countries are vaccinated and we are also vaccinated and other countries across the world.

“That is a big issue before us… Basically, what we are about is what Prime Minister [Keith] Rowley (Trinidad and Tobago) had said at the very beginning of this whole pandemic — that strengthening CARICOM is really the best antidote to COVID-19.”

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    CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin Larocque framed CSME as the “best platform for sustainable growth and development” in the Caribbean.

    “These times demand that the full implementation of the CSME should be our pre-eminent task,” Larocque said.

    He added, “The removal of remaining barriers to intra-regional trade, for example, must be among the priorities. The regime of free movement of skills and persons is how our citizens gauge the effectiveness of integration. The implementation of the agreed-on expansion of categories of skilled workers would help to promote a deeper sense of belonging among our citizens.”

    With collective urgency, member states have signed the Saint John’s Declaration on Rededication to CSME Implementation to commit to the task, “especially in light of the challenges of the current demanding environment”.

    The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) is also slated to convene a special session this November to orchestrate specific steps towards full CSME implementation.

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