(CMC) – CARICOM leaders ended their three-day summit in Trinidad on Wednesday night agreeing to have the free movement of all categories of people by March next year.
The arrangement does not extend to Haiti, whose Prime Minister, Dr Ariel Henry, had asked that the country be excused from the arrangement, giving the humanitarian, social and political crisis in that French-speaking Caribbean country.
“Obviously there are some legal issues that we have to examine. And we have given our legal people, some months to examine those legal issues and to ensure that they can come to us by 30th of March to take a definitive position on this,” CARICOM chairman and Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told a news conference.
“Of course, we have the sort of security agreements in place already that people can benefit from, but we believe this is the fundamental power of the integration architecture and at 50 we could not be here today and not speak about the core of the individual movement, that is people’s ability to move freely within the community, and I think we would have served the community well at this meeting by arriving at that decision.”
The Dominican prime minister said that while the regional leaders understood that there would be some challenges for some “we are committed to this.
“So this is great news. I think the various issues that we are discussing, the number of decisions we’ve taken, this is the decision that we’ve taken at this conference, and I believe the founding fathers are smiling from heaven.”
He said in addition to the free movement, the issue of contingent rights that will be associated with the initiative will also be examined to provide access to primary health and emergency health, access to basic education, pre-primary and secondary education.
Previously under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) that allows for the free movement of goods, persons, skills and labour across the region, the CARICOM governments had allowed for the free movement of media workers, artistes, musicians, sports persons, nurses, teachers, artisans with a Caribbean Vocational Qualification and holders of Associate Degrees or comparable qualification.
Skerrit also announced that the leaders will hold a retreat in Dominica on August 18-19 to review a number of reports including regional governance and strengthen functional cooperation, ahead of their next mid-term summit scheduled for Guyana.
“I have made clear to all of us that we will loose the suits and ties and …we will be in T-shirts and jeans and shorts possibly focusing on some critical important issues of the community so that when we get to Guyana or even before we get to Guyana, we can put a number of issues in place and bring clarity to discussions and we’re hoping that that can become a regular feature. “
“These are the things which matter to the average person in the streets of the Caribbean Community- that they can see tangible benefits,” Skerritt said.
Asked to be more specific about the issues to be discussed at the retreat in Dominica, Prime Minister Skerrit said President of Guyana, Dr Irfaan Ali in his presentation on food and digital security to the summit, highlighted the need for the region to address the issue of trade barriers, the global issue of governance within the community and taking stock of the geopolitics of the world “and how do we position ourselves…
“COP 28 is coming and we need to have a clearly defined position,” he said, adding that it was necessary for the regional grouping to be “singing from the same hymn sheet” as it relates to matters such as climate financing and the need for reform or transformation of the international financial system.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who has lead responsibility for the CSME within the quasi-CARICOM Cabinet, said that the leaders of the 15-member grouping had decided to fully liberalise free movement of all categories of persons across the Single Market by early next year, and to amend the Treaty of Chaguaramas to guarantee them access to a limited number of services.
“Freedom of movement of people so is all. There is no services anymore…This now gives full expression to what every Caribbean person has wanted since we have had control of our destiny,” she told the news conference.
She said the treaty would be amended to harmonise expectations of Caribbean people when they move through the region.
“We recognise, as well, that there will have to be an approach that does not put countries or make countries liable to any form of suit with respect to some of the rights so there has to be a minimum set of rights guaranteed for the movement of citizens.
“So there has to be a minimum set of rights guaranteed for the movement of citizens that will be discussed and agreed upon, that will be captured in the amendments to the treaty that will also have to be financed and we’re looking at the CARICOM Development Fund as being able to put in place the mechanism to guarantee that each country can bring its minimum level of services up to the same acceptable period and level,” Mottley said.
The regional leaders also discussed the issue of air transportation in light of the problems associated with the movement of people since the inter-regional airline, LIAT, had been placed into administration a few years ago.
He said some airlines, including the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines, have been doing a fantastic job thus far in seeking to help fill the void created and that the Bahamas national airline is also looking at doing some flights from the Caribbean to North America .
He said the government had mandated the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to engage in a study, examining the air transport situation in the Caribbean and to come up with some recommendations on how “we should go about addressing the issue”.
He said the bank has now completed this study, which will be presented to the governments in a couple weeks.
“They have done numbers in terms of the cost,” he said, acknowledging CAL’s efforts to develop a plan that involves obtaining additional equipment to do more in the region.