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Wheels already in motion for Caricom bid

Join the club: the Caricom secretariat headquarters building in Georgetown, Guyana (Photograph supplied)

The Government has already started on the path to full Caricom membership after getting the green light from London, according to the Deputy Premier.

In a statement in the House of Assembly yesterday, Walter Roban said discussions between David Burt, the Premier, and Rena Lalgie, the Governor, on “Bermuda’s intention to make an application for full membership” had taken place.

Mr Roban also revealed that the Premier had met with David Rutley — Britain’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Americas and Caribbean — while on a trip to London last week.

Mr Roban said that Mr Rutley “expressed support for Bermuda making an application”.

He added: “He encouraged Bermuda to begin the process, an offer which we will oblige.”

Mr Roban emphasised that Britain will have to be consulted before Bermuda can submit an application to Caricom.

He said: “We are now researching and exploring all that is required to make a full application. The official discussions have begun with the United Kingdom as to whether an entrustment is required or merely an amendment to the existing entrustment.

“Also, we are determining what will be needed for us to facilitate a full application, what steps are required and what may be the points of negotiation we would need to initiate with the Caricom secretariat. We are reaching out to the secretariat to obtain all the required information for the application.

“We are also consulting with other full members of Caricom about our future application to get feedback and guidance.”

Asked by Jarion Richardson, the Leader of the Opposition, to clarify that point, Mr Roban said: “It is important that we consult with the administering power ... before venturing into any possible development of relationships with international bodies.

“That is the appropriate way for us to begin this. We must start with the UK, and from there we make our further steps following discussions with them on an official level.”

Mr Roban insisted that there will be “extensive” consultation with the public in order for “a fully informed and healthy discussion to be had with all interested parties”.

He said: “It is important that people be allowed to ask questions, participate in discussions, look at positives and negatives, and, importantly, to get the facts and answers they deserve. This is the environment that was created in 2003 before the application for Associate Membership was made. It will be done so again.

“Once we receive further information such as the feedback required from the UK Government, Caricom secretariat and other relevant organisations, the public will hear early in the new year about the public consultation process.

“As was the case in 2002-2003, we know there will be interest and we want to have discussions with our community about Caricom, how full membership will impact Bermuda, the steps to be taken and what the future may look like as a full member of the regional international organisation.

But when questioned by Mr Richardson, Mr Roban refused to say if a referendum will be held to decide the issue.

He said: “I am unable to make any submissions to the House on part of the question. I can say, as I made very clear, that public consultation will be a part of this process.”

Free movement of people ... ‘the elephant in the room’

In his speech yesterday Walter Roban dismissed claims that full membership would lead to mass migration from the Caribbean to Bermuda.

He insisted that Bermuda would not accept the policy as a condition of membership — even though the organisation views it as “a fundamental part of the integration architecture“.

Describing the issue as ‘the elephant in the room“, Mr Roban said: ”There have been comments made in the public that full membership of Caricom means mandatory requirements for us to have open borders to Caricom citizens.

“This is false. Being a full member of Caricom actually allows Bermuda to have a voice and vote on matters of policy addressed by Caricom that impact the whole region, particularly the issue around correspondent banking and de-risking. As of now, the Caricom members who have opted out of the free movement of labour are Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Haiti and Montserrat.

“These countries have not signed or ratified the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, which is one of the nine protocols that amend the Treaty of Chaguaramas to establish the Caricom Single Market and Economy. Therefore, they are not legally bound to grant the right of establishment, provision of services, or movement of capital to Caricom nationals.

“However, they may still participate in other aspects of the CSME, such as trade in goods and services, and functional co-operation. Given Bermuda’s small size, I can already confirm that we would not accept the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons as a condition of membership.

“I must add we have not discussed or had sight to date of any conditions of membership set by Caricom, so such matters are to be determined.”

There is a degree of free movement within Caricom for certain employment categories at present.

However, earlier this year, Caricom heads agreed to pass laws allowing for the complete free movement of nationals between member states by next year.

Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica and Caricom chairman, described the decision as being at “the core of the integration movement”.

Speaking at the 45th Caricom annual conference in July, he said “This is great news. I think we would have served and we have served the community well at this meeting by arriving at that decision and we hope to see that it is implemented by March 30, 2024.”

Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados who overseas CSME developments within Caricom, said that some elements of the current CSME treaty will need to be amended.

She said: “We recognise as well that there may have to be an approach that does not make countries liable to any form of suit with respect to some of the rights. There has to be a minimum set of rights guaranteed for the movement of citizens that will be discussed and agreed upon, that will be captured in the amendments to the treaty.”

Highlighting the benefits the island enjoyed as an associate member, Mr Roban said that Caricom members had given Bermuda support during the Covid pandemic and supported each other in natural disaster recovery operations.

He added: “Caricom members stood with Overseas Territories like Bermuda when the UK sought to impose beneficial ownership rules on us. Also, Caricom continues to support us with the challenge within the financial services and banking of de-risking by US and other small islands.

“Bermuda participates with other members of Caricom as a collective, to make representations on banking and investment at an international level, that is, supporting the Bridgetown Initiative, which targets the financing problem by creating more sources from which developing countries can borrow to mitigate and recover from the climate crisis.

“We regularly work together with other islands on internal crime and security issues, and our legislative and regulatory models of the energy sector are similar to those established in the Caribbean region.

“We are using similar experiences to shape our regulations of fuels to control and regulate fuel costs. It should be noted that when fuels are priced globally, we are grouped with the Caribbean.

“We are strengthening our connections related to trade with the region. Many of the commercial services we enjoy in Bermuda are grouped with the wider Caribbean region.”

Other benefits included cultural exchanges and educational opportunities.

Claiming that most Bermudians were “inextricably linked to the Caribbean through people and culture”, Mr Roban said: “The world is smaller, and we are directly and indirectly impacted by world events, whether it is a war in Ukraine, a blockage of ships in the Suez, wildfires in Canada, or sandstorms from the Sahara.

“This is not the 1980s when the views of connecting Bermuda with the Caribbean were very different among our country’s leadership. It is important for Bermuda to establish relationships and alliances throughout the world. It would be foolhardy to exclude relationships with other countries in the world.”

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Published November 25, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated November 25, 2023 at 7:19 am)

Wheels already in motion for Caricom bid

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