At this juncture in the history of Jamaica and the Caribbean, issues relating to our effective participation in the international marketplace as individual nations and as a regional grouping are among the most pressing. At the same time the flow of illegal guns into our states and the use of the region as a trans-shipment point for drugs destined for markets in North America continue to occupy the attention of regional governments.
Linked to our ability to succeed in international trade, in arms and narco-trafficking control, is the question of the relationship between the governments and people of the region and importantly, our ability to communicate effectively with each other. There is no point lamenting our historical fragmentation along the lines of European colonial control - English, Spanish, French, Dutch and the accompanying barrier of language. We must seek quickly to minimise and eventually eliminate this barrier.
The Association of Caribbean States represents the ideal vehicle for achieving this kind of social and cultural cohesion. As Caribbean governments seek to improve the quality of life for their citizens and to generate economic growth, national development and prosperity, we have seen the increasing need for closer cooperation and deeper integration of our economic systems. The Caribbean Community has been the primary vehicle for economic integration in the region. We are now well on our way towards the creation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
In the sphere of international economic relations, we have seen the need to proceed as a united group in the many trade negotiations now underway. These include collaboration with other states of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group in negotiations for an arrangement to replace the current Lome IV convention with the European Union.
There are also negotiations for the creation of a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) by 2005, as well as the Millennium Round trade talks of the World Trade Organisation to commence in Seattle in November this year.
Since the Grand Anse Declaration of 1989, the government of Jamaica has been committed to working with its CARICOM partners towards upgrading the Caribbean Common Market into a Single Market and Economy (CSME). Whereas the Common Market provides principally for the free movement of goods among countries, the objective of the CSME is to develop the individual markets of the region into a single economic space. This would provide not only for the free movement of goods but also for the free movement of services and freedom for enterprises in any member state to establish an enterprise in others. The right of establishment will allow the free movement of capital and the free movement of labour, in practice of managerial, supervisory and professional personnel.
We are already in the process towards the formation of the CSME, as a result of initial CARICOM arrangements for the freeing of intra-regional trade, a common external tariff, and some provision for the free movement of university graduates, media workers and other categories. All but a few governments have completed the necessary processes for ratifying these arrangements.
We have sought policy convergence in some related areas as a means of establishing enterprises in member countries to take advantage of the larger markets in producing greater volumes and varieties of goods in substitution for imports. In today's world, these goods will no longer suffice.
The freeing of trade in services is also needed, because of the growing importance of services trade in the world economy, illustrated by the fact that the international services trade has expanded to account for one quarter of world trade in goods and services.
The effective development of trade in goods and services requires provisions for the protection of intellectual property rights such as copyright and trademarks; rules for competition, including anti-dumping and countervailing measures; and, effective machinery for dispute settlement. Work is now underway to create the Caribbean Court of Justice, which will eventually replace the Judicial Committee of the UK Privy Council as our final court of appeal. The Caribbean court with an original jurisdiction will become the final arbiter in trade disputes within the region.
We intend to use the single market and economy as a building block towards developing greater trade and economic cooperation with our immediate neighbours in the Caribbean Basin, with our partners in the Hemisphere, and to strengthen our arrangements with traditional partners in the European Union.
We are looking towards longer-term possibilities for opening up markets and developing collaborative arrangements with non-traditional partners in Africa and Asia. We want to secure adequate accommodation of our special features, circumstances and needs as small countries in the rules and disciplines that govern international trade through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At the present time, we are working on all these fronts.
We have already concluded partial free trade agreements with Venezuela and Colombia, and have in prospect a trade development agreement with Cuba, and free trade arrangements with the Andean Community and Central America. As an initial step towards developing our trade arrangements with these countries and groups, discussions have begun on the exchange of trade concessions among country-members of the Association of Caribbean States.
In Europe, we are negotiating a successor convention to Lomé IV. We have made considerable progress in working towards a framework agreement containing objectives, principles, and modalities for negotiating the successor agreement itself.
We are committed to finalising the framework agreement before February next year when Lomé IV expires, so that there will be a basis for asking the WTO to roll-over the present waiver of WTO compatibility for a period which is not yet agreed between the EU and the ACP; the former supporting a request for five years, whereas the ACP requires a longer period of ten years.
At the national level, the imperatives for Jamaica at this time can be summarised as being:
oto continue our efforts to provide universal education and training for the people;
opressing ahead with poverty alleviation programmes;
ocreating jobs and high quality jobs in particular;
omodernising the economy and expanding and improving our productive base to compete effectively globally;
oaccelerating our macro economic programme geared towards achieving growth in the economy and doubling per capita income to US$4,000 over the next decade;
oachieving further gains in creating a safe, investor-friendly environment for residents and visitors alike;
oand participating as a full member of the Caribbean team of countries in the range of international trade and other economic negotiations that will ensure maximum gains for the region and its people in the emerging global village.
Education is currently receiving the largest share of the national budget outside of debt servicing. We intend to increase this even further as part of our efforts to make education and training the central plank of our human resource and national development strategy.
Economic and social indicators show that despite some setbacks in the economy, poverty levels are on the decline. We are firmly of the view that rapid improvements in education represent the only sustainable weapon against poverty.
Recognising the need to build new innovative industries to broaden our economic base, fashion, craft and agro-processing are areas that have been receiving significant attention in our productive capacity building programme. As areas with vast untapped potential for growth, they have been identified as growth centres in the National Industrial Policy.
This is part and parcel of our efforts to create high quality industrial jobs that will enable Jamaicans to learn new and adaptable skills, earn more money and compete more effectively in a stable, vigorous labour market.
The State intends to serve as a catalyst for the continued modernisation of the Jamaican economy and diversification of the productive base.
We believe the liberalisation of telecommunications in Jamaica will open new doors of business opportunities in information technology.
A new telecom agreement provides for a programme of employment creation of some 40,000 new jobs in the sector over the next three years. The overall response to the announcement has been encouraging.
The IT businesses are gearing up to capitalise on the recent initiative. Some people are re-tooling to meet demands. Some are moving ahead with expansion initiatives. Others are seeking overseas joint ventures.
Our anti-inflation measures have been the most successful element of our macro economic programme with annual inflation now well below ten per cent. Our aim is for even further reductions in line with the inflation rate of our major international trading partners.
We are working to create a modern, responsive and well-equipped police force, capable of performing at the highest levels of efficiency and professionalism. In this respect we have been pursuing strategic cooperation with international crime fighting organisations in the United States and Britain.
The challenges facing the nation are reflected in the Jamaican saying, "rain a fall, but dutty tough" (rain is falling, but the earth is still hard). However, we continue to move forward confident in our ability as a people, reinforcing our courage and finding new strength to carry through programmes and policies to improve the lives of the people.
Our vision for Jamaica and the Caribbean cannot be confined to building nations of material self-sufficiency. Improved governance, dynamic social policies and initiatives to lift the spirit of the people are essential ingredients in bringing social cohesion and lasting prosperity to the country and the region.
We aim to do so by building a participatory democracy, which engenders confidence in our people to realise their own creative potential and to fulfil our true destiny.
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