CARICOM Secretary General Urges Regional Action On Several Issues

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Irwin La Rocque

… Including Crime, CSME and Climate Change

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Irwin La Rocque Monday urged a regional solution to crime and violence in the Caribbean as well as consolidating the progress made so far in the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

Addressing the opening of the 29th Inter-Sessional in Haiti, La Rocque also made reference to the efforts of the Caribbean countries to deal with the impact of climate change, disaster preparedness and access to concessionary funding

He said building resilience requires significant investment to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to prepare for the impact of such intense climate-based events and what is needed is access to resources which must include significant grant funding and very concessional financing.

“Without access to such financing, this would exacerbate already high debt levels across the region, which is due in large measure to exogenous shocks including severe climatic events,” La Rocque said, noting that most Caribbean countries have now been categorized as middle or high-income and are largely ineligible for concessional development financing and Official Development Assistance (ODA), due to the use of GDP per capita as the principal criterion.

But he argued for example, the Bahamas, an upper middle income country, sustained cumulative damage and loss of US$678 million by hurricanes that hit between 2015 and 2017 which necessitated access to non-concessional financing.

“In the case of our Associate Members their sources of finance are limited. They do not have access to international financial institutions. The British Virgin Islands sustained damaged in excess of US one billion dollars from Hurricane Irma.

“Our region finds itself in extraordinary circumstances which therefore require extraordinary solutions.

There is need for new thinking, leading to changes in the criteria for determining access to concessionary financing by small, vulnerable, middle income countries. “

In his address, the CARICOM’s top public servant, noted that five years ago in Port-au-Prince, regional leaders adopted the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy.

But he said the time may have come to revisit it and identify the areas in need of improvement in order to make it more effective.

“Last July, several Member States signed the CARICOM Arrest Warrant Treaty which simplifies the procedure of returning fugitives to the country where charges have been laid. I look forward to the Treaty being ratified as soon as possible.

“We are close to finalising the Agreement on the Return or Sharing of Recovered Assets. This provides a framework for the return or sharing of criminal assets which have been moved to another jurisdiction. I had hoped that the negotiations would have been completed to enable signature at this meeting. I now expect that it will be ready for our meeting in July.”:

La Rocque said that these are important legal instruments which are significant additions to the armoury against trans-border crime.

“We have also been working on a Counter Terrorism Strategy. For us in CARICOM, an act of terrorism or violent extremism in one member state, will resonate and have repercussions throughout our region.

“The issue of crime and violence is a regional problem that demands a regional solution. It requires the full co-operation of all the national and regional agencies charged with the responsibility for addressing crime and security.”

But he told the meeting that the region cannot allow the threats of climate change, and crime and violence to derail its efforts at building a viable and prosperous community, adding “we have made substantial progress in many areas including with the Single Market component of the CSME.

“The implementation plan for the outstanding issues related to the Single Market, agreed to last July, must be adhered to, for full compliance in the specified time frame. We must accelerate the use of the provisions of the CSME to help us build our economic resilience.”

La Rocque said that a critical aspect of the CSME is the transportation sector which he said would receive a boost during the meeting here with the new CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement being ready for signature.

“This is a major advance as it expands the scope for airlines owned by CARICOM nationals to provide air services throughout the Community,” he said, adding that the agreement allows for no restriction on routes, capacity or traffic rights.

“It should facilitate increased intra-regional travel and provide more cargo options for exporters and importers with resulting cost savings. “

In his address La Rocque said that in the “strenuous efforts to enhance our economic prospects, there are issues which are creating impediments.

“One such is the continuing unfair labelling of some member states as non-cooperative tax jurisdictions.

Member states of our Community continue to work diligently to comply with the onerous regulatory measures, and standards for tax transparency, accountability and cooperation established by the relevant global authorities.

“However, these efforts are seemingly not recognised by some developed countries and our member states are subjected to arbitrary evaluations and blacklisting. While we are being blacklisted by these developed countries, they neglect to do the same among their own.”

He said that unilateral actions have been taken, for instance, by the European Union (EU), noting “that process is clearly outside the inclusive framework that has been adopted by the international standard-setting bodies.

“The unpredictability and uncertainty arising from the evolving nature of the EU criteria and listing process is a matter of great concern. Indeed their actions may actually constitute an infringement on the right of sovereign States to determine their fiscal policy.

“The Community calls for recognition of the primacy of the established international standard-setting bodies. Further there must be an all-inclusive process in the determination and application of agreed standards to reflect mutually determined good tax governance principles.,’ La Rocque said, adding that the impact of blacklisting is deleterious to the economic prospects and social progress of CARICOM states.

“Labelling as a ‘tax haven’ can contribute to the further marginalization of CARICOM states in respect of access to the global financial system by the reduction of correspondent banking services. The further loss of such services remains a significant risk for member states particularly as the labelling processes accelerate,” La Rocque added. – CMC

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