Antigua and Barbuda’s Foreign Affairs Minister E.P Chet Greene has officially taken up the position of Chairman of the OECS Council of Ministers, taking over from Keisal Melissa Peters, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, St Vincent and the Grenadines
In his remarks as incoming chairman Green told an OECS meeting in Antigua this week that over the last decade, OECS Member States have endured several significant external economic and environmental shocks that have disrupted our economic growth and development trajectories.
He said the region is just emerging from the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19. At the onset of the pandemic, the region was still recovering from the devastating impacts of the hydro-meteorological disasters that descended on the islands between 2014 and 2018.
“Amid COVID 19 pandemic, the region faced another natural hazard when on 9th April 2021, the La Soufrière in St Vincent and the Grenadines erupted for the first time after 40 years, causing widespread devastation and forcing the evacuation of homes and communities while its ashfall affected neighbouring islands,” Greene said
Furthermore, he said that in the wake of Covid 19, the food security of the OECS was threatened by the interruptions in the supply chains through production, transportation, and trade bottlenecks.
And global food prices continue to increase as a result of global demand. At the same token, drought in major food-producing countries, high energy prices, export bans, and high fuel prices continue to plague the region. Additionally, the Russian-Ukraine conflict has had a significant impact on the supply of several key agricultural commodities, and thus prices.
“The OECS, therefore, continues to be highly vulnerable to various exogenous economic, environmental, and climatic shocks that challenge their attainment of sustainable economic growth. Our capacity to bounce back from the negative impacts of these shocks continues to be tested and the fragility of economies exposed.,”
He said the OECS is a group of small and open economies with relatively narrow and highly dependent on a few sectors with travel and tourism and agriculture being among the main contributors to our GDP.
“Our current external trade performance and position are also fragile, in which imports of goods significantly outstrip exports, and our services trade surplus is failing to fully cover the goods deficit. The composition and orientation of our export trade are also very narrow, concentrated around a few goods and services and export markets. We have much work to do across a myriad of aspects of trade at the national, sub-regional, regional, bilateral, and multilateral levels, to formulate a comprehensive trade policy and supporting framework,” Greene said.
On the agenda of the meeting were many important issues including implementing the Eastern Caribbean Economic Union with a Customs Union and Free Circulation of Goods, Implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, and Engaging the Multilateral Trading System at the World Trade Organization (WTO)
“To fully engage on all these issues, our trade policy coordination must be effective and efficient. The Council needs to meet regularly. We need to have an agreed agenda before us. We need to be advised effectively by our Officials and the Commission. We need to hear the inputs of those at the heart and on the frontline of trade, i. e. our private sector,” he added.
In this regard, I call for regular dialogue with our private sector and civil society organizations. We cannot discuss and agree on a trade policy mechanism for the OCES without engaging the private sector.
Greene says the production of the region’s goods and services must be competitive for trade in the domestic and export markets.
“This means that the capability and capacity of our business enterprises must be enhanced in all areas, including access to inputs, production, marketing, and leveraging of ICT. Accordingly, key areas of the business ecosystem such as financial services, trade, and transport logistics, energy services, and ICT services must be strengthened,” according to him