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CARICOM Leaders Agree to Improve Economic Integration - 2003-07-07

Caribbean leaders from 15 states have wrapped up a four-day summit in Jamaica that marked the 30th anniversary of the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM. CARICOM leaders agreed to take steps to improve economic integration in the region.

CARICOM leaders meeting in the resort city of Montego Bay, agreed to form a commission to oversee the planned Caribbean Single Market, a European Union-style economic trading block set to take effect in 2005.

Padgett de Freitas, editor of the Jamaica Observer newspaper, says the decision is significant, because it is one of the few instances in the 30-year history of CARICOM, that Caribbean leaders have been willing to cede economic decision making to an independent authority.

"The issue now is how do you implement decisions? And that was perhaps the most fundamental decision taken in Montego Bay was for the creation of a commission of some form to which CARICOM will devolve some executive authority," he said. "The model being looked at is the European Commission in Brussels. But the issue being looked at now is how do you do that and not undermine the notion of a grouping of sovereign nations."

Caribbean nations are also scheduled to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005 and several regional leaders have called for that deadline to be pushed back, citing the difficulties small economies in the Caribbean could have adjusting to a hemispheric-wide free trade zone. CARICOM leaders met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and asked for a phase in period to allow their economies time to adjust to the FTAA. U.S. officials say they will consider the request but the 2005 deadline to join the free trade area will remain in effect.

CARICOM leaders also agreed to finalize steps to create a new Caribbean Court of Justice to hear final appeals in both civil and criminal cases, including death penalty cases, now adjudicated by the Privy Council in London. Padgett de Freitas of the Jamaica Observer says unlike in years past, CARICOM leaders ended this years summit with a real feeling of accomplishment.

"CARICOM has been very successful as a functional cooperation arrangement," he said. "But out of Montego Bay over the past week there is a sense, at least among the people who covered it, of a sense of rejuvenation and of greater possibilities."

CARICOM leaders also moved to try to defuse tensions in Haiti by agreeing to send a representative to Port-au-Prince with a six-month mandate to mediate an agreement for new elections. Haiti's President and opposition members in parliament have been deadlocked for three years over the composition of a new parliament, following disputed elections three years ago.