Caribbean integration in focus as UWI panel hosts pivotal CSME focal point exchange programme

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Focal Point Exchange Programme was held in Trinidad and Tobago between December 4th to December 8th, 2023. This Programme served as a platform for exchanging information on the operationalization of the CSME in Trinidad and Tobago as well as highlighting the country’s updated and improved processes of CSME certification. 

 This significant gathering, held in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, brought together CSME Focal Point officials from Guyana, Montserrat, Jamaica, Suriname, Barbados, and the host country, alongside scholars and students from The UWI and the Institute of International Relations (IIR).

Culminating on December 8th, 2023, with an engaging in-person panel discussion, the event offered a unique opportunity for interaction among representatives from the CARICOM Secretariat, the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, and academic participants from the IIR and The UWI. This collaborative forum served not only as an information exchange platform but also as a space to showcase Trinidad and Tobago’s advancements in streamlining and enhancing CSME certification procedures. The programme’s integration of diverse Caribbean perspectives underscored its commitment to fostering a deeper understanding and efficient implementation of the CSME across the region.

The CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) Focal Point Exchange Programme is an initiative designed to enhance the practical skills and knowledge of CARICOM member state representatives in implementing the CSME and the decisions of the Caribbean Community’s bodies. This programme is part of the broader CARICOM Skilled Workers Programme.

Participants in the CSME Focal Point Exchange Programme engage in work-related attachments in different CARICOM member states. These attachments provide opportunities for learning best practices in the administration of the CSME’s regimes and fostering advocacy for CARICOM integration through practical exposure.

The panel discussion focussed on understanding how the CSME has been impacting the lives of people in the Caribbean region. The panel consisted of Dr. Talia Esnard, Head of the Department of Behavioural Sciences of the Faculty of the Social Sciences of The University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine Campus, Ambassador Dame Deborah-Mae Lovell, former Ambassador to the United States of Antigua and Barbuda, Ms. Wanya Illes, Deputy Programme Manager for Free Movement and Labour, CSME Unit, CARICOM Secretariat and Mr. Salas Hamilton, Communications Specialist at the CARICOM Secretariat CSME Unit, Dr. Annita Montoute, Interim Director of the Institute of International Relations, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus and Ms. Joanne Brooks, Head of the CSME Unit of the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago made remarks.

In her welcome remarks, Dr. Annita Montoute, stressed the importance of such discussions to merge theory and practice. While she pointed to the importance of being critical of regional structures, she highlighted the need to recognize the progress that has been achieved by the regional integration project. The remarks served as a reminder of the incredibly important role of The UWI in promoting regional integration by it being a CARICOM institution and via research and in this case, providing a platform for pertinent discussions. 

Ms. Joanne Brooks stated that the CSME has been integrated into Trinidad and Tobago’s school curriculum. She also noted the importance of the CSME for development, for example, it provides an opportunity for the Caribbean diaspora to return home and invest in multiple countries. 

Ms. Wanya Illes mentioned that previous CSME Focal point missions were successful. She announced that a Focal Point Report will be submitted to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in the coming weeks. Ms. Illes also thanked Dr. Montoute and the Institute of International Relations for their facilitation of such an important conversation. 

Dr. Talia Esnard and Ambassador Dame Deborah-Mae Lovell shared their personal experiences with the free movement of skills/labour. They both highlighted the great potential the CSME holds for regional development. They also pointed to the need to promote awareness of the value and benefits of the CSME among all sectors of society for the advancement of the region to facilitate enhanced operationalization.  

Mr. Salas Hamilton outlined the use of partnerships with International Development Institutions and grants to promote education on regional identity and CSME. He also spoke on initiatives to engage border control officers and the CARICOM Youth Ambassador programme.  The discussion covered several other important points, including the non-independent territories that are part of the CSME, the need to understand the Caribbean as one space, viewing regionalism as a matter of domestic affairs and understanding that CARICOM is a relatively young integration movement and still working through its challenges.

This meeting was attended by several other distinguished guests, including Prof. Winston Dookeran, Former Minister Foreign Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, Ms. Ayesha Wharton, Director of Caribbean and CARICOM Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago and CSME Focal Points: Mr. Keimar Watson (Barbados), Ms. Debra Lewis (Montserrat), Ms. Beverley Macdonald (Guyana), Mr. John Clarke (Jamaica) and Ms. Marijke Bhaggoe (Suriname).

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