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OECS moves full speed ahead towards economic union

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June 19 Roseau Dominica: Leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are moving full speed ahead towards economic union, and are pressing for preferential treatment before joining a proposed regional single market economy.

The island leaders said they were concerned about a widening trade imbalance between their countries and the 15-nation Caribbean Community. The deficit has widened from US$214 million to US$418 million between 1980 and 2003, the leaders said in a joint communique after concluding a meeting in Dominica's capital Friday night.

The Caribbean Community is trying to establish a European-style free market by November that would involve free travel.

Despite their concerns, eastern Caribbean countries support the initiative and "are committed to it," said St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, the chairman of the OECS, as the sub-regional bloc is known.

Eastern Caribbean countries have pursued their own integration efforts as their small economies struggle to compete against globalisation. The OECS heads said they would meet in St Lucia next month to examine a draft treaty for an economic union.

The countries share a common currency and are examining the possibility of establishing a common OECS citizenship and creating a regional police service.

St Vincent and Dominica are struggling to compete with cheaper bananas from Central and South American grown on large plantations. St Kitts decided to shut down its debt-ridden state-run sugar iaqndustry after 300 years of production, saying this year's harvest will be its last.

The OECS was formed in 1981. It now includes Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Kitts, St Vincent, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat, St Lucia and Anguilla.

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