CARICOM Heads agree to steps required to reopen the regional economy

CARICOM Heads of Government have said that they intend to gradually reopen the Caribbean economy on a co-ordinated basis, primarily using public health considerations as the criteria.

A communiqué issued following an emergency online summit held on 5 May noted that CARICOM Heads had taken note of a presentation by a Regional Working Group which had observed that the coronavirus pandemic “was largely contained in the region” as a result of “decisive action by governments to put restrictions in place”.

The group, which included officials from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the University of the West Indies, and the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) proposed a number of parameters for the easing of restrictions in member states “that would allow for a reopening in phases”. They also maderecommendations for a common CARICOM public health policy.

Their proposals included criteria for a protocol on the reopening of CARICOM airports for intra-regional travel and to this end it was agreed that a final draft policy will be submitted to regional leaders for approval.

As a part of the response, it was recognised that a common protocol would be required to reopen the region’s airports to flights “from selected third countries”. CARICOM said that Heads also considered the issues surrounding the reopening of hotels and agreed to establish a sub-committee led by St Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, which will meet with representatives of the tourism industry to discuss the issues involved.

The statement said that such meetings will include hoteliers, airlines, cruise operators and the labour unions and will “settle the appropriate protocols needed to ensure safety for workers and visitors upon re-opening of the sector”. It also noted that these will be informed by the regional public health policy.

In an indication of intent, the Communiqué specifically noted that Heads “stressed their determination to speak to the cruise and airline industries with one voice”.

CARICOM heads also discussed the need for government to pool their procurement of medical devices and supplies to achieve economies of scale and more readily gain access to supplies. To this end it was agreed to make use of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Pharmaceutical Procurement Service.

A regional COVID-19 Agri-Food Security Action Plan to strengthen the Region’s food security which has been developed by public and private sector agricultural interests was also agreed.

A further meeting of Heads is expected shortly to discuss the financial and economic challenges facing the region because of the pandemic.

The meeting was followed a day later by a meeting of CARICOM’s Trade and Economic Council (COTED) which approved a detailed strategy for the reopening of the economies of the Anglophone Caribbean.

This recommends a gradual model which will see governments relax restrictions “in a deliberate, phased and incremental manner based on the transmission risk profile of the pandemic in specified geographical locations, sectors or businesses”.

The strategy envisages the establishment of national public-private consultative mechanisms to govern the relaunch of economic activity in member states; minimum standards which must be attained before relaxation of restrictions; and the development of a communications policy to build public trust. It also recommends ‘Certificates of Operation’ to be issued to businesses that have been verified to be compliant with the protocols established for each industry.

A statement said that the process will be guided by “defined metrics related to the COVID-19 virus”.

Speaking about the meetings and their outcome, Barbados’ ambassador to CARICOM told Barbados Today that all final decisions will be made responsibly and only after further extensive discussions between public health experts and regional leaders.

“We know that COVID-19 is going to be around for quite some time, so we will have to find efficient ways to re-open and protocols of operation that allow us to restart airline travel within the region and between the region and the outside world, without compromising and endangering the public health of our countries. That is where the technical work comes in,” Barbados Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong, told the online publication.

“We would now have to decide how testing will take place, how many people will be allowed on a plane, and other technical details that would have to be put in place. We will have to work out ways of operating safely in spite of the virus. That’s just the reality. The approach of CARICOM member states is a very careful and measured and was why no final decisions had yet been taken”, he said.

Comissiong stressed that Caribbean nations could not afford to be isolated from each other or from the wider world due to their heavy dependence on trade and tourism.

The IMF has said that it expects the sudden halt in tourism as subsequent lockdown because of the coronavirus will cause a 6.2% contraction of the Caribbean economy this year, the deepest recession in over half a century.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.