Blacklisting, regional political unrest concerns as Bahamas goes to CARICOM meetings

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Prime Minister Dr. Hubert A. Minnis will lead a delegation to the 30th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in St Kitts, on February 26-27, 2019.

Heads are expected to engage in several side meetings to advance diplomacy and bilateral agreements among Member States.

High on the agenda for The Bahamas are the recent Blacklisting by the European Union and the political unrests in Haiti and Venezuela.

Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, Joshua Sears discussed the importance of the Meeting, which takes place just months before Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

Inter-Sessional meetings came about after Heads discovered that many items on the Agenda for the Regular Meeting could not be adequately dealt with. Hence, a meeting in between is held to address any issues which might require urgent attention.

“But there are also special meetings by Heads which are called to deal with specific matters. For example, most recently Heads met to deal with the situation in Venezuela, and after 9/11 Heads met in special session to deal with that specific issue and the economic implications for Caribbean countries,” Sears said.

“So Inter-Sessional will give the Prime Minister and other Heads of Government a chance to assess some critical issues.”

According to Sears, the Intersessional Meeting covers a full slate of issues over a two-day period.

“Quite a lot can be done in two days. The Agenda has been set and streamlined to have focused discussions. There will be some long hours but that’s the tradition and we have no concerns about our ability to complete the Agenda,” he said.

Among the Agenda items are the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, Security issues, Blacklisting and Border Issues.

Just recently The Bahamas, and several other Caribbean countries, was placed on a European Union Blacklist, which requires additional scrutiny regarding financial transactions.

“For many years CARICOM has been advocating for a fair process and we will see now that that voice has resonated with developed countries,” Sears said.

The United States also made its statement on the EU’s process and it is anticipated that CARICOM Heads of Government will also renew their commitment to working together as a group to call for a fairer process.

“The entire CARICOM region is adversely impacted by these regulations,” Sears said, adding that, “The good thing about it is through the Financial Action Task Force countries agreed to recommendations to improve their financial sectors and by each country taking the necessary steps… we follow each other and adopt the best practices, Heads share their views, Central Banks Governors meet and they share views and they all work towards making these recommendations more relevant to address the financial concerns of the international financial community.”

Acknowledging that these are “vexing problems” for The Bahamas and CARICOM as a whole, Sears said that the developing countries within the EU feel that these centres are causing them to lose tax revenues.  “Personally, I don’t think that’s a justified conclusion, for them to take the steps they are taking particularly when countries have demonstrated their commitments to improving legislative framework and policy framework. I think they are misguided in that respect,” he said.

Heads are to also view updates on applications for Associate Membership from Aruba, Curacao and Saint Maarten.

“Heads agreed some time ago for these countries to be considered for membership as these countries already have relations with CARICOM so it’s basically, in essence, a formality,” Mr Sears said.

Regarding the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, although The Bahamas joined the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on July 4, 1983, it remains out of the CSME which is an enlarged market offering a single economic space for the production of competitive goods and services.

“The Bahamas is not frowned upon for not joining the CSME, we make decisions based on our national interests and we certainly have been a part of CARICOM. We have attended Heads of Government meetings and there are lots of areas in which we participate like the Community Council of Ministers, the Council of Foreign and Community Relations, the organization dealing with health and social development and many other areas of collaboration within the Caribbean Community. So from our point of view there is not a concern in terms of about being isolated from or being negatively impacted,” Sears said.

Regarding border issues, he pointed out that a concern for The Bahamas and other member-states is the political crisis in Venezuela, which has impacted several Member States in a direct way.

“Guyana has been bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis in terms of people crossing the border. Trinidad has been impacted and there have been a few incidents reported. This has been on the world stage,” Sears said, “Also the situation in Haiti has been one of concern for CARICOM and the president of Haiti (is expected) to brief CARICOM.  Of course, the impact on us in terms of the illegal migration is one of critical concern.”

Heads will also have the chance to dialogue with the President of Estonia, Her Excellency Kersti Kaljulaid. It is customary that one special guest is allowed at these meetings.

The Prime Minister’s Delegation will include the Hon. Darren Henfield, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sears, Viana Gardiner, Chief Operating Officer, Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit; Erica Wells-Cox, Director of Communications Office of the Prime Minister and other government officials.

On the margins of the Inter-Sessional, there’s the 10th Special Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers on February 25, which will be attended by Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

The 30th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community just precedes the 40th Regular Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference scheduled for July in Saint Lucia.

“It’s critical for the Bahamian public to appreciate and understand that CARICOM is an organization which has a strong voice in international relations. We have a strong voice on issues. Sometimes the Bahamian people don’t appreciate the need and the necessity for governments to participate in these organizations.

“The world is such a small place and we all try to develop best practices and standards and there are policy issues which impact education and the legal framework which calls for collaboration between Governments.  When we go to the OAS, or the Commonwealth of Nations or the United Nations, CARICOM’s voice is one, which is very important too. We attend these meetings as part of that whole process,” Sears said.

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This article was written by Lindsay Thompson – Bahamas Information Services