OPENING STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER BALDWIN SPENCER FOR THE SERVICES SCOOP MAGAZINE
Dear reader, as Lead Head of Government with responsibility for Services in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Quasi Cabinet, it gives me great pleasure to be associated once again with this edition of the Services Scoop Magazine and thus to provide you with the broad scope of developments in the regional services sector for the year 2012.
The year 2012 was quite a challenging one for the small, vulnerable economies of CARICOM. The global economic recession, which appears unwilling to go away, and the first and second stage effects of the international financial crisis continued their toll on all aspects of life in our small region, especially in Antigua and Barbuda. Internally, governments continued to be hard-pressed to meet the obligations of their electorate, while externally, measures taken by some governments to address falling revenues are now adversely affecting our small economies. I make specific reference to the Air Passenger Duty imposed by the UK and the non-settlement by the USA of the award to Antigua and Barbuda in the gaming dispute at the World Trade Organisation.
These notwithstanding, efforts to maintain stability of the economies are paying off in the region. In this regard, the difficult but critical work of developing the regional regime for services continued in 2012 and I would like to highlight five areas.
During 2012, CARICOM Member States were able to distil the elements of a Draft Regional Policy for the Provision of Professional Services in the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and extensive consultations with the relevant stakeholders were held in ten Member States. Among other things, this draft clearly defines a professional, makes provision for independent regulation and outlines the requirements and procedures for registration and licensing. The principal objective of the draft policy is to facilitate the free movement of professionals in the CSME as well as to harmonise the treatment of professionals from third countries.
The data collection framework was also strengthened in 2012. A Common Core Trade in Services Questionnaire was developed and independently pilot-tested by Antigua and Barbuda. It will be refined and further tested in six Member States in 2013. It is expected that this instrument will enable CARICOM Member States to report more detailed and timely data on trade in services. The regional framework for services statistics remains weak and needs the support of both the public and private sectors.
Three regional conferences were convened: The Second CARIFORUM International Conference on the Financial Services Sector in the Caribbean Region (30-31 August, 2012, Antigua and Barbuda), Creative Industries (14 September, Barbados) and the Roundtable on Postal Sector Reform (13-14 November 2012, Guyana) respectively. These facilitated the exchange of experiences on various aspects of reform now taking place across the globe and the preparation of targeted strategies to respond to the rapidly evolving external environment.
In the case of Financial Services, delegates examined in detail, the emerging framework of governance of international finance, the factors driving success in small financial centres, reviewed non-tax models that could be applied to the region and considered the elements of a new architecture for the sector.
In the case of Creative Industries, one of the outputs was a framework to develop a preliminary data set on the industry which would facilitate proper planning to harness its full potential.
Negotiations with the European Union on the funding of the regional services work programme have been advanced and are now expected to be completed by year end. Work on the preparation of the Regional Strategic Plans for Financial Services, ICT, Professional Services, Education Services, Tourism Services, Health and Wellness Services and Cultural, Entertainment and Sporting Services are therefore expected to commence in January 2013 and completed by December 2014. Work is already in train in the areas of ICT, Creative Industries and Professional Services and we should reap an early harvest in these areas by December 2013.
Our labours in the area of private sector strengthening continue to bear fruit. The Grenada Coalition of Service Industries was launched on 29 March 2012 and this brings the number of coalitions in the CSME to ten. These coalitions are set up to, inter alia; improve the region’s performance in trade in services.
I am concerned though, at the level of private sector involvement during these difficult economic times. Three major trade in services agreements are enforced for CARICOM Member States: the CSME; the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organisation; and the CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). I am not convinced that the private sector of the region is fully utilizing these agreements to create jobs and earn foreign exchange. I take this opportunity to call on the private sector to seize these opportunities. If restrictions still exist please bring these to our attention. I assure that we will find the appropriate solutions.