The OECS stands as a beacon on the hill to the process of regional integration, says Prime Minister Harris

(SKNIS): Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and recently-appointed Chairman of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris, has hailed the organization on its 35th anniversary as “as a beacon on the hill to the process of regional integration, touching lives not only through the creation of an effective single space, providing the appropriate mechanisms for policy harmonisation, and the exchange of ideas on the subjects that fall under its purview, but also an effective launching pad for us to consider strategies for strengthening existing areas of cooperation, and examining new areas of cooperation.”

The 35th anniversary celebrations are being held under the theme: “OECS at 35—Connecting People, Integrating Ideas, Moving Forward”.

Giving the feature address at the OECS regional press conference to launch the 35th anniversary celebrations via video-conference from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Prime Minister Harris said “The OECS Economic Union provides the platform for the integration of ideas regarding the contour and direction of our regional integration process.”

Dr. Harris said that the integration of ideas must be expansive and inclusive of the United Nations sustainable development agenda. “In short, the discussions must achieve a balance in treatment of economic development, social cohesion, and environmental protection with a view to ensuring a stronger economic space.”

Several key institutions that have played a vital role within the OECS were mentioned by Chairman Harris including the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB).

“Our harmonized and coordinated response to matters of aviation, telecommunications, the judiciary and common currency has borne dividends including efficiency and effectiveness in the handling of these matters than would be derived by our individual country efforts. Working together we have created one of the world’s most stable currency. Equally, we through our pharmaceutical procurement mechanisms have achieved the most affordable drugs for our people. Regionalism has been people centred and our people in the OECS are better for it,” Dr. Harris said.

The new OECS Chairman praised the “hard work, dedication and commitment” of the personnel at the OECS Secretariat, including the Commissioners, who continue to ensure that “our Governments and peoples partner in and extract joint benefit from such critical development focus areas as Pharmaceutical Services, Tourism, Trade, Agriculture, Competitive Business and Regional Integration” while highlighting the recently launched OECS Youth Development Strategy under the theme “OECS Youth Empowered Society (YES)”.

Prime Minister Harris also underscored the important role of the OECS in the Free Movement of Goods and Services Regimes as one of the key ways in how people within the sub-regional integration movement remain connected.

“Trading relationships and networks are built on the premise that both exporter and importer would benefit from their respective business transactions, generating economic activity through the creation of employment and linkages with other economic and social sectors,” he said.

Dr. Harris said that the OECS should consider “the establishment of an institutional framework to provide exporters with the ability to extend favourable credit terms with persons and entities with whom they trade.”

“Indeed, there are cases where our manufacturers are competitive in price and quality, but fail in their ability to offer credit. This is one area of deficiency which needs to be corrected if we are to achieve our full potential in our free movement of goods regime,” he said.

The new OECS Chairman pledged to “provide the impetus to ensure that the sub-region achieves its fullest potential in the field of trade in goods and services.”

He encouraged the Governments and peoples of the OECS to continue to commit themselves to strengthening the Economic Union, helping small and medium-sized businesses, and engaging and involving young people in every way, especially in arts and culture.

Also, Dr. Harris emphasized that “our OECS Economic Union in many ways can be regarded as a stepping stone to the further deepening and strengthening of the CSME.”

“Our vast experience particularly in the field of fiscal and monetary policy harmonization is one area which can be highlighted in this regard,” he said.

Prime Minister Harris said that the OECS in moving forward should ask itself two questions: One, what are our strategic goals regarding the effective functioning of the OECS Economic Union? And two, should we initiate discussions on the advancement of a political union in the OECS?

He commended His Excellency Dr. Didacus on his leadership of the OECS Commission and all those who laboured before him in the vineyard of the OECS Integration and Union.

Outgoing Chairman of the OECS, Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. the Honourable Keith Mitchell, was thanked by the Director-General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules, for his time of service.

The Treaty of Basseterre that formalized the OECS was signed in Basseterre, St. Kitts, on Thursday, June 18, 1981 and the Revised Treaty of Basseterre, establishing the Eastern Caribbean States Economic Union was signed in Basseterre, St. Kitts, on Friday, June 18, 2010.