Dr Carla BARNETT
The joy of this festive period is once again tempered by the continuing onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the year, our immediate concern has been how best to secure lives and livelihoods in our Member States, as the virus’ lingering presence slows the recovery of the economic and social well-being of the people of our Community.
The primary focus has been on acquiring sufficient vaccines to save lives and allow for the revival of economic activity. With the assistance primarily of the Governments of India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, as well as our provisions under the COVAX Facility and the highly appreciated accommodation of the African Union through the African Medical Supplies Platform, a significant supply of vaccines has been made available. Our Heads of Government, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the CARICOM Secretariat are working tirelessly to maintain an adequate supply of doses.
We have also been looking at life beyond COVID-19. The CARICOM Commission on the Economy, comprising a group of eminent regional and international experts, provided advice on approaches to building resilience and on the return of CARICOM economies to a path of sustainable growth and development, including a 12-Point Action Plan in its Report entitled “Caribbean 9:58”.
Priority was also accorded to agriculture and tourism, given the adverse impact of the pandemic on those sectors. A Special Ministerial Task Force on Food Production and Food Security is working closely with the private sector on an Action Plan arising from a strategy put forward by the President of Guyana as Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Agriculture. An Interim Tourism Working Group (ITWG) prepared a Draft Joint Tourism Policy for CARICOM: COVID-19 Emergency Plan for the period October 2021 to December 2022.
Progress was also made towards the Single ICT Space, with the initial engagement of the two principal telecommunications providers in the Region on the issue of the elimination of roaming charges in the Region.
A negotiating team has been set up to continue the discussions.
Our Foreign Ministers have been very active in pursuing the Community’s interest and have engaged with their counterparts in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Our Community was also deeply involved in COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The outcome fell short of our expectations and much work needs to be done as we continue to advocate for action to reduce global emissions, so as to ensure that global temperature rise does not exceed 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
There is also the need to work with our Member State, Haiti, to help in resolving the deteriorating political situation and the deepening public anxiety over citizen security. This has been made more challenging after the tragic assassination of His Excellency President Jovenel Moise. The Community has been engaged with Haiti at the highest level and has offered to assist in crafting a Haitian-led solution.
In the past year, we have experienced time and again the benefit of the Community working together to assist each other in responding to natural disasters, such as the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines with the resultant heavy ashfall in Barbados, and the earthquake in Haiti. We also worked together to procure and share vaccines, to present a common front at climate change negotiations and to advocate strongly for our interests in discussions with foreign governments.
As we enjoy the festivities of the season, let us not forget those who lost their lives to the pandemic and those still in its throes, and let us hold up and honour those frontline workers who continue to serve at great sacrifice.
Have a safe and happy holiday season.