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OECS officials develop action plan to facilitate regional travel
Published on February 1, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Chief immigration officers and comptrollers of customs from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) assembled in Antigua from January 23-24 to engage in a working session geared towards developing an action plan to facilitate ease of travel not only for OECS citizens but also for visitors to the OECS region.

As the lead sector driving the economies of OECS member states, the tourism sector is being looked upon to play a crucial role in bringing the economic union into practical effect. The OECS common tourism policy argues that: “enabling the free movement of people within the region is perhaps the single greatest change required to improve the region’s economic competitiveness”. The policy recommends the harmonisation of customs and immigration procedures, and proposes free movement across borders between OECS states without restrictions or checks.

Dr Loraine Nicholas, programme officer for tourism at the OECS Secretariat, said, to this end, the essential measures proposed by OECS border control officials to facilitate ease of travel include full clearance of travelers only at the initial port of entry.

“In our efforts to facilitate ease of travel within this single shared space of the economic union area there are two dimensions that we need to bear in mind: One is the free movement of OECS citizens which is a treaty right conferred upon OECS citizens and which OECS member states are therefore obligated by treaty to comply with. The other dimension is the ease of travel into and within the OECS space by visitors coming into the region which in essence is a matter of choice rather than of obligation. So conceptually therefore the treatment of both visitors and OECS citizens may for the most part be similar. However, as it relates to visitors, one of the recommendations coming out of our OECS tourism policy, which was developed in 2011, is for visitors to the region to undertake full clearance procedures, that is customs and immigration only at the initial port of arrival in the region and then for them to be able to move relatively easy to other member states on that same trip,” Nicholas explained.

Some of the other essential measures proposed by OECS border control officials to facilitate ease of travel are:

• Harmonisation of procedures to collect departure taxes
• Electronic collection and sharing of E/D card data
• Harmonized standard operating procedures and improvements to service quality at OECS borders
• Standardization and compatibility of software to enhance information sharing; and
• Harmonisation and consistent application of risk management principles

The OECS regional consultative workshop to improve ease of intra-regional travel is the first tourism-related activity out of a series of planned interventions geared towards implementing the recommendations related to the harmonisation of tourism policies contained in the OECS common tourism policy.

“At that meeting in Antigua and Barbuda we basically discussed the various actions and interventions necessary for us to facilitate this ease of travel while of course ensuring that the security of our borders is not in any way compromised,” Nicholas said.

The support from the European Union in facilitating ease of regional travel across OECS member states is being provided under the project Economic Integration and Trade of the OECS Region.

That project, which is being administered by the OECS Secretariat, is being financed out of resources from the 10th EDF regional programme, and seeks to contribute to the establishment of the OECS Economic Union as a single economic and financial space through the development of a harmonized policy, legislative, regulatory and administrative framework, and the enhancement of the institutional capacity and export competitiveness of OECS economies, while enabling the OECS to maximize the benefits of the EU-CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
 
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