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OECS countries express concern about CSME

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August 26 St. John's Antigua: The smaller countries of the Caribbean have expressed their feelings on the heels of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) due to be in effect as of January 1, 2006. A meeting with CARICOM officials sought to address matters of the Development Fund, regional markets on specific agriculture products, OECS proposals of special and differential treatment and the difficulties meeting the deadline of December 2005.

Antigua,s Trade Affairs Officer, Michael Freeland, spoke briefly on the matters, stating that although the OECS countries have signed on to the Treaty which will govern a single market, these countries still had to remain committed to their people so that their economies will benefit from the arrangement.

The development fund which is now being a highly debated agenda item is fundamental in the formation of the CSME. Questions of its construction and accessibility are still being contested ensuring somewhat of an equitable outcome for all CARICOM Member States.

According to Freeland, the least-developed countries of CARICOM should have a special arrangement in accessing this fund. Therefore, the small businesses within the economies will be able to utilise such mechanism, offsetting disadvantaged positions, retooling its strategic objectives and being able to survive in a competitive single market.

The Trade Affairs Officer also suggested that the fund can contribute to addressing issues of the agriculture sector. “There is a need for infrastructural support and services for agricultural development. Already, Antigua and Barbuda is forging ahead realising the potential linkages between agriculture and tourism taking into account the decision made on pineapples for World Cup 2007. If funds can be allocated via investment capital for both the development of technology and the diversification of the agricultural economic base, then the resultant effects of the policy directives are likely to impact positively towards the overall growth and development within the economy of Antigua and Barbuda.” Freeland said.

Mr. Freeland also noted that the December deadline should not hinder efficient discussion or decision making that would lead to greater benefits for the Eastern Caribbean states. One troubling factor for this twin island state is the removal of work permits by December 2005 as Antigua and Barbuda already has some 46% non-nationals employed. Freeland expressed to the meeting that the country simply needs an extension on the derogation granted some four years ago, so that the necessary infrastructure can be implemented. “Antigua and Barbuda is not saying that we will not remove this restriction to allow our CARICOM brothers and sisters to move and work freely in our state. What we are saying is that time is needed to computerise and amalgamate the necessary Ministries to ensure that the CSME works effectively.”

This also follows a similar request made by the Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, Minister of International Trade, at the Heads of Government Meeting in St. Lucia in July.

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