By Candia Dames
8th July 2005
Leaders of the Caribbean Community have accepted the position The Bahamas has taken not to sign onto the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) within the next two years and have agreed that this country will continue to play an active role in the regional grouping.
The Bahamas reported on the state of the public debate regarding the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which establishes the CSME, according to a communiqué, issued yesterday following the 26th meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.
"Member states agreed that in the circumstances of the particular position of The Bahamas, the status quo of its present relationship and involvement in Caricom institutions should be maintained," the communiqué also said.
When he had been pushing the case for The Bahamas to join the CSME with certain reservations, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell had insisted that the signing would have maintained the status quo as it relates to The Bahamas’ participation in Caricom.
He told The Associated Press in St. Lucia that the debate in The Bahamas over CSME has effectively ended because of the decision taken by the Government of The Bahamas not to sign the Revised Treaty.
It was also something Minister Mitchell reiterated when he spoke with The Bahama Journal yesterday.
"I really don’t propose to get into any further debate about this matter," he said. "It is not an issue which is a live issue for The Bahamas government. The Bahamian people said they want no further debate on the matter so the debate is over and I won’t engage in it."
During the debate, there had been questions regarding what role the country would play in Caricom if it did not sign onto CSME.
Bahamas High Commissioner to Caricom A. Leonard Archer had even suggested at one point that The Bahamas may in fact have to resign from the bloc. But he had said that that would have depended on the reaction of the heads to this country’s decision not to join CSME.
Heads of Government indicated that they understood why the country could not now join the agreement.
According to the communiqué, the heads welcomed the fast-track steps taken by Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to become Single Market compliant since March 2005, and took note of the "strenuous efforts" being made by all the remaining member states to achieve Single Market treaty-compliance and overall readiness.
"They reflected the constraints which member states faced and the challenges of accelerated integration among states of differing capabilities and competitive strengths, and reaffirmed their commitment to the long-held community principle of special- and differential treatment for the disadvantaged among the member states," the communiqué added.
Even though the government has stressed repeatedly that it had planned to secure certain reservations, including the free movement of people, there continued to be widespread fears that The Bahamas would have been flooded with foreign nationals had it signed the agreement.
These kinds of "misconceptions" as they were termed by Minister Mitchell were a part of the reason why the drive to CSME was abandoned.
However, heads addressed the free movement of skilled nationals during this week’s summit.
They agreed that Caricom nationals who are entering the Free Movement Regime with a skills certificate issued by a member state other than the receiving state should be allowed to work immediately while their qualifications are verified by the receiving state.
The conference also agreed that the review of proposals for the expansion of the eligible categories of skilled nationals would be completed in time for consideration at the next meeting of the conference.
There were other matters of importance addressed in the final document from the heads meeting.
Regional leaders reviewed developments in the various external trade negotiations in which the region is involved.
"They noted that the rapidly changing international environment was less accommodating of preferential arrangements, such as those that traditionally characterized the region’s trade relations," the communiqué noted.
"They reiterated the region’s commitment to, and active participation in ongoing external trade negotiations, but observed that the current challenges including tardy progress on special and differential treatment for small, vulnerable economies and the general push for reciprocity were beginning to raise uncertainty about the costs and the benefits involved."
Heads also noted that St. Vincent and the Grenadines now joins Suriname, the first member state to issue national passports using the common Caricom format.
Several other member states are expected to introduce the new passport format in 2005 and 2006. December 2007 has been identified as the timeframe for completing the introduction of the new passport format by all member states.
When he returned from the summit yesterday, Minister Mitchell indicated that this is not a concern for The Bahamas, as it does not intend to follow this same move.
During the summit, heads of government also received a presentation on developments relating to security in the region, according to the communiqué, which says it was recognized that the issue of security needed to be frontally addressed and effectively tackled in order to maintain sustainable development.
In this regard, they endorsed the Management Framework for Crime and Security, which makes provision for a Council of Ministers responsible for National Security and Law Enforcement to superintend policy direction; a Security Policy Advisory Committee; and an Implementation Agency for Crime and Security.