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Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has sent a clear message that the implementation of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) is still a key agenda for regional governments despite the significant hurdles that have been encountered since the negotiation process first began in 1989.
Addressing the status of negotiations during a recent speech on the opportunities presented by the financial crisis for greater collaboration and cohesion between CARICOM member states, Stuart said the region had proved wrong those who had said the CSME was unachievable. He noted that despite slow progress towards full completion of the project, CARICOM member states remain unified in their ambition to implement the CSME to simplify and liberalize trading conditions for the region's business community.
Once fully in place, the CSME would establish a single economic space among thirteen CARICOM members, which would involve the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade. In addition, a common external tariff will be in place on goods traded with nations outside of CARICOM, with collected customs revenue shared between member states.
The journey towards full implementation of the Caribbean Single Market has not been plain sailing and member states, such as those belonging to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States have repeatedly put back target dates for signing up to the single market. Leaders are targeting a 2015 deadline for the full implementation of the CSME under a phased approach which began in 2008. Outstanding areas include harmonizing the nations' tax, regulatory regimes and sectoral policies, and the creation of a CARICOM Monetary Union to oversee a single currency among members.
Stuart told attendees: "The region has made commendable progress in advancing the creation of the CSME, resting on the five pillars of the free movement of goods, services, capital, skilled labour and the free movement of enterprises."
Acknowledging, however, that the creation of the single economy has not been swift, Stuart underscored that the issues involved are complex, and, understandably, have required more thought. He called on leaders to accelerate progress towards resolving remaining areas, observing that short-sighted fears of upsetting the 'status quo' had throttled recent progress.
"There are legislative mechanisms to be put in place, institutional structures to be established and, yes, fears to be exorcised. We are moving steadily along, always conscious of the benefits to be derived by our people but, taking note also, of valuable lessons to be learnt from elsewhere."
He said for as long as the talks meet apathy from local leaders, "the prospects of a smoothly-functioning Single Market and Economy will, to that extent, be placed in doubt."
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