MARTINIQUE’S accession to the status of Associate Member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) yesterday is both “historic” and beneficial to the sub-regional body, OECS Director-General Dr.Didacus Jules says.
Dr. Jules’ sentiments came Tuesday during a press conference held at the OECS Commission’s headquarters on Morne Fortune ahead of the 60th Meeting of the OECS Authority which began yesterday and ends today in Martinique. All Member States will be represented at the meeting except for Saint Kitts/Nevis where election mode is in effect.
Martinique is the first French territory to join the 33-year-old regional body following an application made to the OECS which had the full endorsement of the French government. According to Dr. Jules, ever since he addressed the Regional Assembly in Martinique in November 2013 – following which the Assembly voted unanimously in favour of Martinique’s membership into the OECS — the OECS Commission has been treating the French territory as an Associate Member. Guadeloupe should be next in line, but Dr. Jules says much has been achieved so far in getting the French to come on board.
“This meeting is very historic because it is going to mark the accession to Associate Membership of Martinique to the OECS,” Dr. Jules said. “The Regional Council of Guadeloupe has also applied for membership in the OECS but the negotiations with Martinique were more advanced and the vote had already been taken in the Regional Council of Martinique for membership.”
Heads of Government will also use the meeting to consider a number of critical matters of importance to the OECS. Having “completed the circle with the freedom of movement of people across the single space of the OECS” earlier this year, Dr. Jules said that the OECS Commission’s work continues apace to ensure that regional business becomes less cumbersome.
“We are now working on freedom of movement of goods and services so that businesses, for example, which have established presences across the OECS (can be able to transfer their goods from one territory to another seamlessly). But there’s a lot of bureaucracy that we have to wade through. There are a number of process changes and procedural changes that need to happen in order to create that seamlessness. So the Heads (of Government) are going to be updated on that matter,” Dr. Jules explained.
Other matters to be considered at this week’s meeting include: (1) proposals to ensure options for the sustainable financing of the OECS’ integration architecture, (2) creation of an Eastern Caribbean Competition Commission, (3) plans for the second sitting of the OECS Assembly, and (4) ICT competitiveness in the region.
The OECS Director-General said that especially in the area of health care, the sub-region stands to benefit immensely from its closer ties with Martinique. From cooperation in keeping Ebola at bay to Martinique serving as a formidable base for tertiary health care, Dr. Jules said the new alliance bodes well for all OECS nationals.
“We are very excited about the accession of Martinique. The Martiniquans have been very involved in all of our meetings. They’re part of our weekly Ebola meetings. In fact, they’ve already made certain proposals for treating Martinique as a centre for tertiary health care in the OECS. So we hope (that) through agreements and protocols we can have a structured relationship whereby we can determine when people go to Martinique and for what types of treatment,” Dr. Jules said.
Apart from health care, Dr. Jules said other benefits of Martinique joining OECS are opportunities for trade and tourism. While the region has some ties in that regard with Martinique, a further “deepening” of those ties can now mean greater benefits to the region.
“Deepening those already existing links and structuring them in a way that they can have a more optimal impact on the economy and on the opportunities for small businesspeople and individuals to benefit,” Dr. Jules said.
However, Dr. Jules hastily added that despite Martinique’s new status in the OECS, nationals do not have carte blanche to travel as they please to that island. Since Martinique is part of France, he said, “our provisions with respect to freedom and ease of travel will not immediately obtain.”
“We have to be very clear about that. In fact, if the truth be told, we’ve done ourselves a bit of a disservice with some of the illegal migration that has happened and the reputation of Saint Lucians, for example, in Martinique. But the deepening of relations will actually help to iron out those problems and create a more structured basis for more easy intercourse of people,” Dr. Jules said.
With Martinique now being an Associate Member, the OECS countries can now have greater access to the French market. The bigger picture, though, means that the sub-region can now use Martinique – and ultimately Guadeloupe should that island joins the OECS – to the European markets. Dr. Jules was, however, quick to add that such opportunities would require major changes and higher standards.
“This will be a strategic advantage for us because Martinique and Guadeloupe can now be a doorway that can help us have easier access to France and the European market. But let’s be clear about one thing, though. The standards of importation of goods and so on are at a much higher level than obtains elsewhere. So it will also be a challenge for us if our manufacturers, for example, want to enter that market to up their game in terms of standards and so on,” Dr. Jules said.
Strengthening ties with Martinique is good. What should be of major concern is the integration agenda. It must not be operating on the lines of the EU where all sovereignty is given to the Commisssion. It needs to stay as a democratic grouping of independent nations.
There should be a presumption of free movement of people etc but it remains in the hands of the nation to decide who comes in. Where resources and integration is mutually beneficial then it can proceed.