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Wake Up To the CSME - July 26, 2004

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Wake Up To the CSME

Hello St. Lucia,

I am actually abroad attending to the business of the OECS as I speak to you, today. This time, I am in the UK meeting representatives of the British Government and the Office of the Chancellor of the Judiciary. Our talks are about the decision by the British Government to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor of the Judiciary. You see, the Lord Chancellor plays a key role in the appointment and discipline of our Chief Justice.

Earlier this month, I also attended the 25th Caricom Summit in Grenada, where, along with other Heads of Government of our regional community, we deliberated on several matters of importance to the future of the Caribbean Community. One of the important issues discussed in Grenada had to do with the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, otherwise known as the CSME. So, every time you hear the CSME, it means the Caribbean Single Market and Economy.

A Most Significant Development

When the CSME is established, it will be one of the most significant developments in Caribbean regional integration in recent years. It will have a major impact on regional economies, as well as on regional economic development. The CSME will bring dislocation, but it will also bring new opportunities and benefits to the people of Saint Lucia. It will also bring unparalleled competition in goods, services, manufacturing and trade. It is important, therefore, for us to try to understand it and prepare for it, as it will be a fact of life for each and every one of us from very early next year. Our lives and our economy will be changed by the CSME. We must prepare!

One Regional Economy

When it is established, the CSME will lock all our national economies together and turn them into one economy. The CSME will remove all restrictions and barriers to trade and economic activity between member states for nationals of the region. This larger, unified economic space will make a positive difference to our economic growth. We will therefore have to stop thinking of economic opportunities in terms of Saint Lucia alone. Instead, we will have to see the entire CARICOM region as a common economic space to be exploited by us all.

Free Movement of Goods

The CSME will allow for the free movement of goods within the community. Goods produced in the CARICOM region, for example in Jamaica or Barbados, will not be subject to import duties, tariff and quantitative restrictions in any member state. Equally, our products will be able to enter other Caricom markets on similar terms. That means our producers and manufacturers in St. Lucia will now be able to sell their products more easily in the regional market. Greater penetration of the regional market by Saint Lucian entrepreneurs will lead to greater economic activity here at home.

Free Movement of Capital

The CSME will allow for the free movement of capital. Our people will now have the right to move capital from one member state of the community to another -- from Saint Lucia to another member state and vice versa -- to invest in any member state, to buy shares in companies in any member state without having to obtain permission to do so or having to be subject to restrictive requirements. A wider capital market will now be available for our businessmen and business places to raise funds for investment. In other words, businessmen will be able to raise loans in Barbados or Trinidad & Tobago if better rates of interest are offered in those islands. Just imagine, it will become possible for a Barbadian or Jamaican to use a Charge Card at a store in St. Lucia and have his or her account debited immediately in his or her home country.

Our nationals will now have the right to acquire land, and other property in any CARICOM member state without the restrictions that currently exist, such as Aliens Landholding Licences. Nationals of other Caricom states will have similar rights in Saint Lucia.

Free Movement of People

The CSME will provide for free movement of people across the region. This has already involved the removal of work permits across the region for University Graduates and Media Workers. It will be extended to musicians, sportspersons, artists, other skilled service providers, businessmen, self-employed persons, thereby allowing such persons to be employed in any member state of the CARICOM community. Procedures are already in place to recognize degrees and certificates. The free movement of persons will, in time, be facilitated by a common travel document that will do away with the current hassles that many CARICOM nationals now encounter when travelling through the region. Complementing the free movement of persons and workers is a social security agreement that allows for the transfer of social security benefits from one CARICOM country to another. St. Lucian graduates who are unable to find employment in Saint Lucia can now move freely to another Caricom country in search of employment. Likewise, graduates from other islands will be entitled to seek employment here in St. Lucia. We have to put our dislikes and prejudices aside.

No Discrimination

Under the CSME, we cannot discriminate in favour of our local people. We have to treat Caricom businessmen and companies the same way we treat our businessmen and companies. So, for example, we cannot compel CARICOM companies to obtain a trade licence to do business in Saint Lucia if we do not require Saint Lucian businesses to obtain a trade licence. Likewise, we cannot exempt locally produced or manufactured goods from consumption taxes and charge or levy consumption taxes on CARICOM goods. All domestic and CARICOM products must be treated identically. While these arrangements will present a challenge to our local entrepreneurs to be competitive, opportunities will also abound, as there will be a wider economy in which they may trade.

Our State of Readiness

In terms of Saint Lucia’s readiness for participation in the CSME, there are approximately forty pieces of discriminatory legislation that must be repealed or amended. Administrative measures will have to be put in place for Saint Lucia to be part of the CSME. Saint Lucia has already started to take action on these. A Task Force on the CSME has been established by the Cabinet of Ministers under my Chairmanship to finalise the process of Saint Lucia’s participation in the CSME, and that Task Force has already begun its work.

Over the course of the year, the Task Force will be accelerating its programme to make Saint Lucia CSME-compliant by 2005. Public education programmes will also be undertaken to ensure that our people fully comprehend the CSME and what it will mean for us.

A New Vista of Opportunity

We must not be afraid of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. It will be challenging, but it is a challenge we must confront. If we want to compete in today’s global market, we must prove ourselves in the regional arena and form regional partnerships and alliances for the international stage. The CSME is the platform for this. We must go boldly forward and seize the advantages that it can bring us.

We Are Part of the World

Having said all that, let me say that I also know that as a people we sometimes pretend that the rest of the world does not exist. But the rest of the world has news for us. We simply cannot expect to exist as if we are in a world of our own, on our own. The experience with our bananas should always remind us that we cannot hide from the rest of the world.

The tasks we face in the weeks and months ahead are many. We have lots to prepare for, including the Cricket World Cup 2007. But the CSME comes much earlier, before the World Cup. Indeed, according to the schedule, it will be here in just five months time, in January 2005.

We must put our shoulders to the wheel as we move from one phase of national and regional development to the next.

Once again, do have a nice day and enjoy the rest of the week. But please take care until next Monday.


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