Urgent dialogue called for on developing framework for regional trade in energy

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Dr Devon Gardner, Programme Manager, Energy, CARICOM Secretariat, addresses the launch of CARICOM Energy Week 2014 in St Vincent and the Grenadines

LOWLANDS BAY, St Vincent — There is an urgent need for dialogue that identifies the commitments and the steps that are necessary for developing a framework for regional trade in energy, said Dr Devon Gardner, programme manager, energy, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat.

The existing regional trade framework is focused on market access for goods and services and is not designed to tackle energy trade and investments. The framework should be comprehensive, dealing with trade in multiple energy supplies: oil, gas, solid and liquid biofuels, as well as electricity.

Gardner was, at the time, speaking in Lowlands Bay, St Vincent and the Grenadines at the launching of CARICOM Energy Week 2014.

CARICOM Energy Week is being observed region-wide from 16-22 November 2014 under the theme ‘Achieving Climate and Economic Resilience through Sustainable Energy’.

A framework for regional trade in energy, Gardner said, would have the effect of decreasing dependence on extra-regional supplies, which would strengthen regional energy security and “deepen the CARICOM integration process through the treatment of energy resources – both conventional and renewables – in individual member states, as a regional good”.

Continuing within the context of using energy as a tool for integration, Gardner drew attention to the fact that the CARICOM energy policy, approved by the COTED of energy ministers in March 2013, addresses regional energy security and energy trade.

He pointed out, however, that there was an absence of a regional mechanism through which this would be implemented so that, for example, the biofuel potential in Guyana would provide St Vincent and the Grenadines with increased energy security, with respect to both the predictability in pricing and supply that is desired in a sustainable energy economy.

He told his audience that the biggest inhibitor to sustainable growth in the majority of CARICOM countries was the unpredictable and mostly high cost of imported fuels on which member states were almost completely dependent.

“…the cyclical escalation of global crude oil prices makes the CARICOM economies extremely vulnerable to oil price shocks, and the establishment of stable and affordable energy prices can lower the cost of input into the various productive sectors, thereby endowing the economies of member states with increased competitiveness,” Gardner said.

He added that the volume of GDP and foreign exchange resources that CARICOM member states continue to pay for expensive, energy imports could have otherwise been directed to making the investments necessary for driving sustainable growth. Such growth, he said, would, in turn, provide significant portions of the capital that was required for adaptation to climate change and sea level rise, and other critical interventions which were necessary for sustainable development and resilience building.

The five-year CARICOM Strategic Plan identifies energy as one of the region’s key economic growth drivers. In this regard, the plan focuses on energy efficiency across sectors; development and use of renewable energy; legislative and market reform to allow for access of renewable energy to the electricity network; building awareness and capacity within member states; and facilitating public private partnership in energy development and building on the CARICOM energy policy.

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