This past weekend Prime Minister Christie and the rest of the Bahamas delegation returned to Nassau from Guyana. They had been participating in the 23rd Conference of CARICOM Heads of Government held July 3-5 in Georgetown.
In a presentation during the Opening Ceremony on July 3, Mr. Christie addressed fellow Heads for the first time as Prime Minister of The Bahamas. The speech, one of five featured during the opening of the conference, was carried via satellite across the Caribbean.
The Prime Minister pledged to remove all uncertainties from the relationship between CARICOM and The Bahamas emphasising, though, that he would do so only in consultation with the Bahamian people. The Bahamas has not signed the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established CARICOM in 1973, and which now incorporates both the CARICOM and the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
In addressing members of the press on his return, Prime Minister Christie indicated that other trade arrangements to which The Bahamas is committed, in particular the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), require The Bahamas to make a decision regarding the CSME. *”The decision will be taken only after the widest possible consultation in our country,”*he said. Currently, The Bahamas is a member of the Caribbean Community, but not the Common Market.
Issues discussed at the Heads of Government Conference included:
– a revised foreign policy strategy for CARICOM, focusing on the fundamental principles that govern foreign policy co-ordination and execution, and setting out Community priority areas and issues;
– the development of a regional crime prevention strategy, including the creation of national commissions on law and order matters;
– proposals for a regional stabilisation programme, including a stabilisation fund; (To be discussed at an August 16 meeting in St. Lucia)
– the 30th anniversary of CARICOM in 2003, and the positioning of the Community by that anniversary and for the rest of the 21st century. (To be discussed at the next Inter-sessional Meeting)
While in Guyana, the Prime Minister had the opportunity to meet with the Hon. Don McKinnon, Commonwealth Secretary-General. He described their discussions as “productive.”
The Bahamas has the distinction of being both a member of the Commonwealth Committee on Terrorism and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action group on the Harare Declaration. Prime Minister Christie said the Committee on Terrorism is to develop a Commonwealth-wide response to terrorism, while the Ministerial Action group is crafting the Commonwealth’s response to challenges to democratic governance and the rule of law in the Commonwealth.
Also discussed with Mr. McKinnon was the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC), and areas in which it could assist The Bahamas.
**Free Trade Area of The Americas**
The Prime Minister indicated that he has returned from discussions with other Heads of Government at the CARICOM forum very clearly committed and resolved to have the Minister of Trade and Industry and the Minister of Foreign Affairs – and other relevant agencies – put matters relating to the FTAA “on the table.” Detailed negotiations relating to the FTAA must now take place, he said, and for The Bahamas it must also be looked at in the context of the country’s application to join the WTO. *”There are some compelling reasons why we should be at the table to share the experiences with other countries as they decide on a path to these new global arrangements that are taking place,”* he said. The Bahamas Government supports the position that the countries of CARICOM must argue in unity about special circumstances peculiar to the region.
CARICOM’s Conference of Heads of Government is the Supreme Organ of the Community. It consists of the Heads of Government of the member states and is the final authority of the Community. The primary responsibility of the Conference is to determine and to provide the policy direction for the Community.
The Mission Statement of CARICOM is “To provide dynamic leadership and service, in partnership with Community institutions and Groups, toward the attainment of a viable, internationally competitive and sustainable Community, with improved quality of life for all.”