GEORGETOWN–The free movement of labour and goods, reduction of the food import bill, and strategies to ensure the general public's effective participation in the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) were among the key issues raised at an open forum of the Convocation on the CSME held in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The forum on Saturday afternoon brought the curtain down on the two-day convocation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre, which was held to receive a report of an audit of the status of implementation of the CSME.
The audit was mandated by the Caricom heads of government, four of whom were at the convocation–David Thompson, Prime Minister of Barbados and Lead Head of Government with responsibility for the CSME; Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; and Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Patrick Manning, Prime Minister of T&T.
The forum, which lasted for more than two hours, benefitted from robust interaction among the heads of government, ministers, regional institutions and organisations, representatives of civil society, the labour union, the private sector and the media.
In particular, the free movement of labour and the attendant consequences for member states emerged arguably as one of the more pressing issues at the convocation.
CSME, a thorny issue
Characterised from the floor alternatively as the "feel of the CSME" and a "thorny issue," the free movement of labour element of the Community's flagship programme elicited several recommendations. They ranged from the establishment of a labour market information system and a social welfare stabilisation programme to the full exploration of lifestyle and demographic changes that would be wrought by the free movement of people.
The labour movement, which was well represented at the convocation, reiterated its support and commitment to the CSME and recommended the establishment of a regional labour market information system so that the Community could be adequately informed about employment opportunities and other pertinent data from which residents could make informed decisions. The time ripe for such a regional facility, the trade unions argued.
Dialogue and discussion between governments and labour were also critical to progress within the CSME, the trade unions stressed, and suggested that regional tripartite consultation committee forum be set up aimed at promoting and monitoring regulatory labour market developments at the regional level, suggesting areas for improvement and advising on strengthening social capital.
The business community expressed concern about the likely change in the demographics of member states, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean that may occur from the free movement of people in the region.
The region must be able to address those facts head-on and until such time as the benefits associated with the CSME are firmly ventilated and understood, there will always be objections, Robert LeHunte, the Caribbean Association of Indigenous Bankers representative, said.
"Life as they know it with those changes will not be the same and people must be aware of that," he said.
He was also of the view it was important for the community to understand the benefits of political union.
"We are missing some of those issues...; the politics of fear can take us that far, but the politics of inclusion is also important," he said, while underscoring the goals and ideals of the CSME would not be achieved unless there was a mechanism for corporate governance that was not possible without political union.