Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, presenting to CARICOM heads
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- CARICOM heads of government engaged private sector ‘captains of industry’ on fostering business growth in the region, as several key development issues took centre stage on the first full day of the 35th annual CARICOM Heads of Government conference in St John’s, Antigua, on Wednesday.
The first ever strategic plan, geared towards promoting greater development for the Caribbean Community, was also presented to the heads as they got down to business following Tuesday’s ceremonial opening of the conference.
Wednesday’s private sector encounter involved about 15 leaders of companies with investments across member states. It was ‘a very frank exchange on building a partnership between the Community and the industries to foster growth and investment,” CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRoque announced.
Issues discussed included the need to harmonise the business rules and regulations across the Community and not have different regulations for conducting commerce, he noted.
Earlier, the heads received the strategic plan for the Community, which was produced from extensive engagements with representative groups and individuals across all member states and some associate members, and which seeks to identify priority areas the Community will focus on in the next five years. The plan is centered on building resilience – economic, social and environmental, in the member states. Heads were due to deliberate on the plan during their retreat on Thursday.
A Commission on the Economy submitted their second report to the heads, which emphasized the importance of public/private partnerships in the development thrust. They stressed the need for debt advocacy, in light of the heavy indebtedness of several member states. The report also advocated seeking to change the middle income classification of member states to one that takes account of the special circumstances of small economies.
The heads approved the terms of reference for a regional commission on marijuana, which will conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the region and advise if there should be a change in its current classification. Commission members have not yet been appointed but are expected to be experts in their particular field and complete their enquiry in about a year.
Discussions were also started on a plan submitted by the Regional Reparations Commission for a Caribbean reparatory justice programme, and these will continue during Thursday’s retreat.
The Heads also had an exchange of views with the prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, building on the long-standing dialogue fostered through four earlier CARICOM-Spain Summits. The Spanish prime minister gave the commitment that his country will continue to be an active partner in the region, and a strong advocate of the Caribbean’s interests in important organisations such as the European Union. Through financial mechanisms such as the CARICOM-Spain Joint Fund, Spain has remained among the top ten donors to the region.