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Last updated: 05 July, 2010 - Published 15:49 GMT
 
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Reconstructing Haiti urgent priority
 
 Jamaica's Prime minister Bruce Golding
Jamaica's Bruce Golding is chairing the summit
Caribbean leaders are holding their annual mid-year summit as their countries struggle to recover from the global economic crisis.

The conference, in the Jamaican resort of Montego Bay, is also taking place as enthusiasm for regional economic integration appears to have waned.

The summit of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) also opens as the World Bank predicts that economic growth in the area, excluding Haiti, will be a modest 3.2% this year. Last year it was 2%.

But that does not tell the full story.

Caricom Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, has said that the economies of at least half of the member states will contract or will not grow this year.

He expressed concern about the high levels of unemployment and other factors that may exacerbate social and other problems in the region.

Bleak assessment

Critics have complained that Caricom has reacted weakly as a group to the economic crisis, which has hurt their key industries, particularly tourism.

St Vincent and Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has blamed the lethargy on a "lack of leadership".

beach
Caribbean tourism has suffered during the downturn

Elder statesman Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Guyana foreign minister and Commonwealth Secretary General, has issued his own bleak assessment.

"Caricom is in comatose; and a coma can, without intensive care, precede death...,'' he said.

Sir Shridath said the centrepiece of the integration movement, the single trading market, had "lost its credibility".

Outside the region, confidence in the grouping may be slipping as well.

Vague outcomes

"Speaking to politicians and senior officials in Europe and North America about regional integration and the Caribbean's institutions, it is clear that there is a growing desire to find, where possible, alternative institutions to work through," said David Jessop of the London-based Caribbean Council.

At their mid-year summit last year, the heads of government issued a statement on the financial crisis but it was dismissed as a series of vague generalisations.

The leaders promised to continue work toward a regional financial services agreement to improve regulation after the collapse of the CL financial business empire.

Haiti earthquake
The Haiti earthquake will be a major topic

Not much is known of the progress toward this goal.

They also said they would meet with international financial and other institutions to seek assistance that's tailored to meet the region's needs.

In a speech in the Bahamas last month, the former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur said the Caribbean has not benefited from the $1.1 trillion in new support the G-20 had pledged for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the multi-lateral development banks .

Mr Arthur said: "The Caribbean, where the greatest need exists but where the least support has been received, must champion the call for the honouring of that commitment."

Haiti quake

Caricom heads will get an opportunity to put their concerns directly to the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Khan when they meet him in Montego Bay.

The IMF has already been called upon to provide policy-based loans to Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda, two of the countries hardest hit by the economic crisis, but this has been done through existing programmes.

Other issues to be discussed in Jamaica include growing violent crime and the reconstruction of Haiti after January's devastating earthquake.

Haiti is one of the subjects that United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon will likely raise with the heads of government when he meets them.

Jamaica media four leaders are likely to miss the meeting, including the Prime Minister of Barbados who is ill, and the President of Suriname, who is in a caretaker role after inconclusive general elections in May.

 
 
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