Browne addressing the opening of the CARICOM conference in Jamaica

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, the Hon. Gaston Browne, has called for urgent, renewed unity among CARICOM countries. He was addressing the opening of the Thirty-Ninth Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM on Wednesday evening in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The conference began on Wednesday and concludes on Friday.

He said that no single CARICOM country had the capacity to face the present or future challenges alone, and noted that there was an unavoidable interdependence of CARICOM countries, as geographical neighbours that compelled co-operation, collaboration and integration to meet development needs.

Prime Minister Browne also suggested that after 53 years, since CARIFTA was established, the Region should have been further along the road to economic integration than it was now. Using the example of the European Union, he said others started the process before CARICOM and were much more advanced. He opined that the people of the Region were no longer as hopeful as they once were regarding Regional integration and suggested that the leaders had a chance at the Summit to restore trust and confidence that they could make – and implement – joint decisions.

“As we convene as leaders of our Caribbean countries, we should not deceive ourselves that the people of our Region have great hope for the outcome of our ritual meeting. After 53 years of crawling through the process of integration, disappointment has replaced hope and scepticism has overwhelmed belief”, he said.

According to Prime Minister Browne the solution to the difficult economic circumstances resulting from challenges such as natural disasters and ineligibility for concessional financing, was the deepening and widening of the regional integration process. He said the realisation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) was part of solution to the Region’s challenging economic circumstances.

Each of our countries has to commit to, and implement, free movement of goods, people, services, capital and technology. It is the only way in which our Region will overcome the low level of both intra-industry and intra-regional trade”, he pointed out.

He said the realisation of the CSME would be good for all of CARICOM, as long as provisions were made within it for balance in everyone’s interest. He pledged his support to Prime Minister Mia Mottley in working on the issue.

Speaking to other challenges the Region’s economies faced, Prime Minister Browne said the negative effects of de-risking and the withdrawal of correspondent banking relations were well-known. He also noted the frightening prospect that, if these movements continued, CARICOM countries could be cut-off from the world’s financial and trading system. He said that if this were to happen, the consequences would be nothing short of disastrous. He implored his colleague Heads of Government not to allow what he referred to as the unilaterally devised and universally imposed doctrines of the OECD and FATF to be elevated above the welfare of the Region’s people.

In closing, Prime Minster Browne reiterated the urgency for Regional unity. According to him, it was needed now more than ever, with deeper commitment and greater strength.

The task of overcoming our vulnerabilities; of growing our economies despite the odds; of giving our people their rightful share of the world’s bounty will only be possible if we enlarge our strengths by combining them. We should not now dither or defer”, he said.