Barbados does not have the capacity, given its population, to go it alone to achieve economic development, and thus should be more welcoming of its regional neighbours, said Prime Minister Mia Mottley, as Parliament moved to tweak the law governing the entry of skilled CARICOM nationals.
Introducing the CARICOM Freedom of Movement of Persons Amendment Bill to the House of Assembly this evening, she declared: “Barbados has a trade surplus with one region in the world, and that is the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, as well as with Guyana.
“So when xenophobic staements come, we forget to recognise our economic stability is linked to our neighbours, and Trinidad is where the second or third largest source of investment into Barbados comes from.
“And when we add that one in every five visitors to Barbados comes from the CARICOM region, we begin to understand why the political party I lead has a constitutional objective to pursue regional integration.
“We cannot survive only on the 280,000 people who live here, because we do not have enough economic activity on our own.”
The new bill clarifies some aspects of the original freedom of movement legislation as well as makes some new provisions.
The Prime Minister said: “The bill before us defines very clearly what is meant by an agricultural worker, an artisan, an artist, a security officer, and we have also used the opportunity to clean up aspects of its functioning, to define what is a “community national”, a “qualifying CARICOM State” and we are also allowing for provisional entry for dependents of the person (for example spouses or young children), and over the last 18 months we have brought clarity to the Protocol on Contingent Rights to allow people to see what benefits they can get in moving from country to country.”
Mottley noted Barbados was once a major exporter of labour in the years immediately following emancipation in 1838, and that once again, one of the dilemmas the region faced was that countries like Guyana and Suriname, despite having enormous potential for economic growth following the discovery of significant oil reserves, are short on people with the requisite skills to profit from it.
The Prime Minister said: “Guyana is the size of England, Scotland and Wales combined, but while the UK has a population of 64 million, Guyana has 741,000 people.
“While Suriname is bigger than the Netherlands but its population is 563,402.
“Ironically, they are the least populated countries in CARICOM but they are expected to grow to unprecedented levels shortly.
“Even with the best will in the world, we will have to work together, because if we don’t, nature abhors a vacuum and others will come in and fill it.
“We have to recognise that there is great strength in unity and we need to build out a community greater than the sum total of us all.
“The precept upon which the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed says we will treat each other better than anyone else who does not belong to the grouping, the most favored nation precept, so if we take that spirit, we must recognise we need to look at each other before we look at anyone else.
“When the two energy ministers from Barbados and Trinidad signed an agreement to work together a year ago, it recognised Tirinidad has a century of working with oil and natural gas while Barbados does not.
“It is better to work together than to have someone from ‘far and away’ to work with us and benefit themselves more than we do.”
But she stressed that nothing in this amended law gives people who may be deported the right to stay.
“So in all that we are doing, a country still has the right to protect itself from those who were deported for any particularly serious purpose, and the country has the right to take protective action to protect its borders, this normally relates to national security but also public health on occasion.”