By Peter Richards
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders went into an all-day retreat last Friday, resuming “frank and open” discussions on the issue of air and sea transportation within the 15-member grouping.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, told reporters that the issue had been discussed during the first day of deliberations, last Thursday, as well as matters pertaining to the CARICOM Multilateral Services agreement.
Gonsalves said he had presented the leaders with a report from the Council of Trade and Economic Development (COTED) that dealt with the air transportation issue in May.
“Among the issues discussed were issues concerning the new Multilateral Air services Agreement, some issues relating to the aeronautical services entity here in Trinidad which manages the Piarco flight information region which covers the OECS (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) region as well as Barbados, the taxes and the relationship between the various state owned airlines and critically the issue of the subsidy”.
Gonsalves confirmed that the discussions would continue in caucus on Friday but said he was heartened by the frank and open discussions to date by the regional leaders.
“The discussions were very open, very frank so that we knew where all of us stood on the question. I am optimistic that we will have a resolution on some of the issues and particular modality adopted on others going forward.”
The leaders have gathered in Point-a Pierre in the south of the island at the Petrotrin compound for their retreat, and Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, said he too remains optimistic about a solution to the air transportation problems in the region.
“We discussed the matter fully and various aspects on a very important topic were ventilated. We decided at the end of the day that the heads should look more closely into the matter when we meet in caucus…and coming out of those deliberations some decisions will be arrived at”.
Spencer said “anything having to do with transportation” will be discussed at the retreat “because as you realize that transportation is key to the integration process and we have to make sure that we get it right this time around”.
He described the deliberations among the leaders on Thursday as “being very candid on the matter” with regional leaders stating their position “in a way that was not aggressive.
“It was just a question of stating the situation as they saw it and for us to address this thorny issue which we have been skirting along for a very long time and we all have decided we need to deal with this matter if the whole question of integration is to make any sense, if the CSME (CARICOM Single Market and Economy) is to make any sense we need to address this issue frontally.”
Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller, also has her own concerns as it relates to the ongoing relationship between Air Jamaica and Caribbean Airlines.
In 2010, Port of Spain and Kingston agreed to a deal that allowed the Jamaica government to own 16 percent of CAL as part of the conditions for CAL taking over the lucrative routes of Air Jamaica.
The deal also allowed for Trinidad and Tobago agreeing to a US$300 million transition plan for CAL to acquire and operate six Air Jamaica aircraft and eight of its routes.
But the deal has had teething problems and Jamaica has given the new board of Caribbean Airlines one month to get its house in order or face the prospect of Kingston withdrawing the Air Jamaica brand.
“We are looking forward to looking at some other things in terms of Jamaica,” she said, adding “I will not say now until I am absolutely sure what will happen”.
During the meeting, the leaders held discussions with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, Prime Minister Vicente Ehate Toni of Equatorial Guinea and a delegation from the United Arab Emirates that is seeking Caribbean support to host the 2020 World Trade exposition.
Insulza presented the leaders with the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas that had been mandated by the Summit of the Americas.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, the new CARICOM chair, in receiving the report acknowledged the complex nature of the Hemisphere’s drug problem and appreciated the comprehensive findings, which would be used to develop a multifaceted and flexible approach to resolving an issue challenging many countries in the Hemisphere.
She said she was looking “forward to the continued cooperation of the General Secretariat of the OAS on this important issue”.