BASSE-TERRE, Guadeloupe, March 15, 2019 (CMC) – Leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have ended a two-day special summit, here, critical of the European Union, over its decision to name several Caribbean countries to a list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, which Europe said, was based on an “an intense process of analysis and dialogue, steered by the Commission”.
OECS Chairman and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, told an end-of-summit news conference that the sub-regional leaders had fashioned a new strategy, “which involves both accommodation and creative resistance”, to Europe.
“The discussion, on blacklisting, was wide and ranging, and that is why we said, a strategic frame was adopted by the Authority to accommodate Europe, where accommodation is necessary and desirable and to resist creatively, and we will do so as one,” he told reporters, adding that there are “several particular elements in the strategy, which we will engage with Europe”.
Earlier this week, The EU Finance Ministers said that, based on the Commission’s screening, they had blacklisted a total of 15 countries, including several Caribbean countries, namely: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Dominica and Aruba.
“The list has proven a true success with many countries, having changed their laws and tax systems to comply with international standards,” the EU said, adding that over the course of last year, the Commission assessed 92 countries, based on three criteria: tax transparency, good governance and real economic activity, as well as one indicator, the existence of a zero corporate tax rate”.
Last month, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders, at their 30th Inter-sessional summit in St. Kitts-Nevis, said the blacklisting of CARICOM countries, by the EU, has brought considerable reputational damage to the Community.
“Despite all member states, with the exception of one, being removed from the EU blacklist, the damage inflicted is irreparable, and has consequential implications for building Member States’ economic and climate resilience, given their inherent vulnerabilities,” they said in the communique, issued at the end of the two-day summit.
Gonsalves told reporters that he wanted to make it known “up front, that we reject, entirely, the notion of a black list”.
“How can a group of White countries impose a blacklist on countries, which are predominately Black,” he asked, adding “I could see them putting a white list, but that list, whatever it is called, we consider it to be unjustified”.
He said it should be understood, that several countries in the region, including those threatened with being blacklisted, “have been given a clean bill of health by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“That is the standard, we all agree, is an inclusive standard. We, in the Caribbean, participate in the OECD standards. But Europe is changing the goalposts and trying to have people hop and jump, in accordance with the changing goalposts”.
He told reporters that while St. Vincent and the Grenadines had not been included in the new list of tax havens by Europe, “we have had to be changing our legislation to our own disadvantage”.
“What has happened is that Europe is bullying these countries. The politicians in Europe have hired ruffians, under the guise of professionals, behind whom they seek to hide. Part of our engagement is to get to the policymakers and don’t speak with the hired ruffians,” he added.
“What Europe has done is unacceptable and we are responding as one, whether we are on a list or not on a list,” he said.
Gonsalves said that the meeting also issued a specific statement, as it relates to corresponding banking relationships, the de-risking issue and the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme.
The highlight of the two-day summit was the admittance of Guadeloupe as an Associate Member of the grouping, that comprises Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Martinique.
He said the leaders had also condemned the terrorist attack in New Zealand, where a 28-year-old Australian man is charged with murder, after killing 49 people and injuring 40 others in a dual attack on mosques in that country.
The OECS leaders expressed “shared grief at the horrific massacre of innocent worshippers”, with Gonsalves adding that the shooter deliberately targeted a place of sanctity and spiritual comfort for the Muslim community, and reports that women and children were among the dead, “filled all our hearts with a deep sorrow”.
“We abhor any form of violence and act of terror against any race, ethnicity, religion or creed, and we are unanimous in our resolve that no act of terror will ever change the values of free nations.”
The sub-regional leaders said New Zealand has been a staunch development partner and close friend of the Caribbean, “and we will be there for you today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.
“As New Zealand comes to terms with their pain, let us be comforted that this great nation will continue to be defined by the love of all of its people, which will prevail over the hate, with which these innocent lives were taken,” they added.
The OECS leaders had also adopted a position calling on the United States to end its “illegal and unilateral embargo on Cuba and the recent attempts by the American government to ramp up that embargo”.
They have also indicated a willingness for greater cooperation in their diplomatic relations, noting that Antigua and Barbuda has now joined the OECS mission in Brussels and that there will be a greater OECS presence in Africa.
“In addition we reconfirmed an earlier decision, to have non-resident diplomatic representation in several African countries, as part of our general march to Africa,” Gonsalves said, adding that efforts were also made to have a bigger presence in Canada.