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The world does not stand still!

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The past week has been a difficult one for this country. Emails were many as the matter that is the current topic of conversation was discussed far and wide. This is quite unfortunate but understandable given the stage at which the matter is. My concern has always been that any effort to stop this matter from getting to court will take it even further into the domain of public debate at a time when few of us are in possession of the facts. If the Police Officer was in fact subjected to the allegations she made then she deserves to be heard. If she is being mischievous making false accusations against the Prime Minister then she must suffer the consequences.{{more}} Neither of the two persons, accuser or accused could be happy with the way things are. The danger is that if this matter is not handed properly and with transparency, a large blot would remain on the image of the country, and both persons will live with a stain imprinted on their characters, and the matter will continue to be a talking point not only at home but also anywhere there are Vincentians.

In the meantime the world does not stand still. Many things are happening which would have implications for us. Our other problems are not going to disappear and the divisions in the country will continue, for once the matter moves into the public domain then it will be engulfed by the sick politics of our nation. My intention is not to discuss this matter further. Like most other persons, I am not in possession of the facts and do not particularly like the amount of speculation it is generating. I am concerned about the families of both parties. They are drawn into something over which they have no control. It is really a sad state of affairs and will have long term implications for the development of our country and make it even more difficult for us to work together.

Dominica Will do it its Own Way?

In Dominica the government has decided to put the matter of the Venezuelean oil refinery on hold. This is welcomed by environmental groups and the Hotel and Tourism Association which was concerned about its impact on the country’s image as an Eco-Tourism destination. This matter of the oil refinery has also surfaced at a time when Dominica has the distinction of being the only Caribbean country to sign on to membership of the Venezuela’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). For its decision to sign on to ALBA, the country’s Prime Minister has come under strong criticism from inside and outside of the country. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is prepared to defend his decision or rather the decision of his government stating that Dominica will reap great benefits. This might be so and poor countries like Dominica would obviously be taken up with these benefits whatever there are. One of my concerns has to do with whether or not ALBA runs counter to some aspects of the CSME and of the Caribbean Governments intention where the Free Trade Area of the Americas is concerned. CARICOM has been trying to collaborate in areas of foreign trade and trade related matters. What signal does this send to the rest of the region and why are the other countries not prepared to join Dominica? At least in our case Prime Minister Gonsalves has said that while he is committed to the principles of ALBA there are certain issues that first need to be addressed. Are these issues unique to St.Vincent and the Grenadines? If they are common to the region does Skerrit feel that they have been resolved for Dominica? We have to wonder about Skerrit and his approach to some of these matters. When we all thought that the deal with the oil refinery was settled, he is now saying that it is being put on hold. Why is he only now arriving at that position? Environmental groups and the Hotel and Tourism Association had for long been voicing concerns about the oil refinery, why then did he go ahead pursuing it and now has to put the matter on hold?

Call for Regional/Public Consultation on the EPA

Then there is that other matter that is heating up in the region and has implications for all of us. This has to do with the challenges to the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe. The agreement is scheduled to be signed sometime within the next two months but groupings in the Caribbean are voicing their concerns and calling for wide public discussions. Those opposed include even one CARICOM leader President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana who has been critical of the EPA. In fact we are even hearing concerns coming from Guyana, suggesting that at least in the short run Guyana has little to gain from the CSME. Other groups include NGOS and Caribbean Scholars/Intellectuals. One person who has been quite outspoken on the matter is Professor Norman Girvan who is among those or rather was among the first to call for public consultation before making final agreements on the EPA.

A key figure in this is the Honourable Christopher Sinckler, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Business of Barbados. Minister Sinckler was part of the team that won the Barbados election as members of the Democratic Labour Party. Sinckler in his earlier dispensation was Coordinator of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) which had been raising its voice strongly against the EPA as it was being formulated. It will be interesting to see what his position is likely to be now that he is Minister of Foreign Trade and International Business and will be involved in overseeing arrangements related to the EPA. In an address to the 21st meeting of the Caribbean Community Council in Barbados on February 6, he stated as follows, “The Cariforum-EC agreement goes well beyond the traditional scope of trade agreements, and incorporates elements that have been, up until this point the sole purview of national and regional jurisdiction.” Norman Girvan in an article entitled “Implications of the Cariforum-EC EPA, noted that several subject areas covered in the EPA were not yet settled in the CSME and he mentions several of them- Financial Services, Investment, Competition, E-Commerce, Intellectual Property and the Environment. Girvan is concerned about the comprehensive nature of the agreement and its implications for policy making.

We in the Caribbean are saying one thing and doing another. If we are serious about the CSME and see it as the way forward why are we getting into arrangements that might have negative implications for the CSME. The call for regional and public consultations should be supported for although we have not yet seen the details of the EPA agreement it apparently will have far reaching implications for the region and how it goes about its business. The end to preferential treatment in trade and services is not at this time in the best interest of the Caribbean even if it is to be phased in. The Caribbean public needs to know what we have signed on to and how this impacts on us. Clearly we have to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.

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