‘We are in charge’ – Santokhi says regional trade should be easier


By Vishani Ragobeer in Suriname


Easier trade within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) continues to be a pursuit of the bloc and Surinamese President, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, reminded his colleagues that they are the ones with the power to achieve this.

“I believe that more should be done on the economic integration because here as leaders we are incharge to take those decisions.

“We can have problems to get access to the European market, we can have problems to access the United States market or the Canadian market but here in CARICOM we are in charge,” the Surinamese Head of State, who is also the current CARICOM Chairperson, said at a briefing on Saturday.

Furthermore, the Surinamese President called on his regional counterparts to identify those priority goods that should be accessible throughout the region and then work diligently on guaranteeing they can be traded easily.

If there are challenges to this much-needed cooperation across CARICOM, then he believes that efforts should begin among the “coalition of the willing.”

“…let us start with 1, 2, 3 or 4 countries, and we will see if it will be expanded.

“(But), we need to make that start to get that integration,” President Santokhi underscored.

Regional leaders are meeting in Suriname over the next few days as part of the 43rd Regular Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government.

And easier regional trade is among the discussions planned.

The focus on easier trade comes as the region continues to grapple with a massive food import bill and rising costs for food and fuel amid supply challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine/ Russia crisis.

In response to these woes, Guyana- which has the lead responsibility for agriculture in the regional cabinet- is pursuing an aggressive food security agenda. Through this, CARICOM countries are expected to significantly increase the amount of food produced within the region.

Though food production is set to increase at least by 25 per cent by 2025, some trade barriers, specifically non-tariff barriers, may constrain efforts if unresolved.

Fully implementing the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) – CARICOM’s free trade agreement – could see those barriers resolved. But Secretary-General of CARICOM, Dr. Carla Barnett reminded citizens that it is not necessarily an easy process.

“Part of the reason why we have a common market as a Caribbean community – we call it a single market – is because there are trade barriers that we need to remove among ourselves,” Dr. Barnett acknowledged.

She noted that these barriers, specifically the existing non-tariff barriers, were instituted to help countries protect their productive capacity – that is, to prevent the introduction and spread of certain diseases from country to country through agricultural produce.

Though removing those barriers requires political will, she explained that other stakeholders, such as port health officers, customs officials and veterinarians, need to be engaged.

This year, there has been an increased focus on resolving these barriers to trade following Guyana’s presentation of an agri-masterplan during the CARICOM intersessional meeting in Belize and then at the regional agricultural investment forum in Guyana.

At the end of the ongoing Heads of Government meeting, the Secretary-General believes that much more progress will be made.

“I do believe we are going to be getting updated discussions and then discussing how we remove the remainder of what may still be there,” she said.

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