News

St Maarten to host CaribNOG 12

WILLEMSTAD, Curacao -- St Maarten will host the twelfth meeting of the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG) from October 24 to 26. CaribNOG is the Caribbean’s first volunteer-based community of network engineers, computer security experts and tech aficionados.

The three-day gathering is part of a larger event called Internet Week SX, which continues until October 28.

The Internet Week is organised by CaribNOG, the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Registry (LACNIC), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the St Maarten telecommunications regulator (BTP).

The event dates were announced at the second Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum, held at the Renaissance Resort and Casino, Willemstad, Curacao from June 7 to 10.

“At the twelfth regional gathering of CaribNOG, we’re expecting a large turnout of network operators, telecommunications regulators, academics, Internet service providers, engineering and computer science students, special interest groups and government representatives, drawn from across the region and around the world,” said Bevil Wooding, one of founders of CaribNOG.

Wooding is also the Caribbean Outreach Manager of Packet Clearing House, a US-based non-profit firm that has worked closely with CaribNOG and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, an inter-governmental organisation, to actively promote and support the growth of critical internet infrastructure across the Caribbean.

“CaribNOG 12 is being hosted in conjunction with a two-day event by LACNIC and ISOC, and that’s deliberate,” said Stephen Lee, CaribNOG’s program director. “The ongoing collaboration between regional Internet organisations is critical to increase regional awareness of Internet policy and related global developments.”

Kevon Swift, head of strategic relations and integration at LACNIC, said the collaboration between LACNIC and CaribNOG played a key role in enhancing the technical capacity of the region: “These types of meetings are important forums to tackle the technology issues affecting Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

IDB: Regional growth hampered by savings crisis

Latin America and the Caribbean faces a savings crisis, with fiscal and demographic realities making the outlook worse in the coming years, according to a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) released here today.

The region faces major fiscal challenges in the years ahead and the report argues that more savings is a key element to ensure both economic growth and resilience.

The gross national saving rate in Latin America and the Caribbean was just 17.5 percent of GDP between 1980 and 2014, far below the 33.7 percent for Emerging Asia and 22.8 percent for advanced economies. Only sub-Saharan Africa saved less, at 13.8 percent.

The report analyzes the reasons behind the region’s chronically low savings by households and governments, and its economic impacts, from behavioural biases among individuals to structural inadequacies in financial systems and fiscal budgets. It also looks at inefficiencies in savings by firms, which invest too little.

On the upside, the book provides a roadmap for policymakers and other key actors to reverse the situation to bring savings rates more in line with successful economies. The IDB said even small gains in savings could have big impacts.

For instance, for every percentage point increase in national saving, domestic investment in the region increased by almost 0.4 percent. This means US$20 billion in more money available to finance vital infrastructure projects, the IDB said.

“We can’t just shrug off our poor savings rates by saying we are bad at putting money away,” said IDB Chief Economist José Juan Ruiz. “This book shows governments, businesses and even families have it within their power to ensure we have the resources we need during the bad times and the good times, and to care for an aging population.”

The book, Saving for Development: How Latin America and the Caribbean Can Save More and Better, is part of the IDB’s flagship Development In the Americas series. It lays out the big gaps in the savings system in the region.

It noted that pension systems are another savings constraint. Less than half the population in Latin America and the Caribbean saves for retirement through a contributory pension system, a problem that, unless corrected, will get worse as the population ages.

“The savings crisis means the region is struggling to find the resources needed to finance new and much-needed airports, ports, roads and other infrastructure that can boost future growth. The region must increase investment by between 2 and 4 percentage points of GDP per year (depending on the country) for decades to loosen this binding constraint to growth, or by between US$100 billion and US$200 billion a year,” the IDB said.

It added that fiscal policy has also impacted savings, noting that governments spend too much on current expenditures such as subsidies, and too little on capital investments. The IDB said that recent economic downturns have made this worse as governments have opted to cut investment spending.

“The agenda to get countries to save more can seem overwhelming, requiring us to act on many fronts,” said IDB lead economist Eduardo Cavallo, one of the book’s coordinators and editors. “It may seem more convenient to rely on foreigners to provide us with their surplus savings. The book shows this is not a viable option anymore. Saving more and better will allow us to stand on our own two feet, and provide resources for people to achieve their aspirations.”

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

Regional rum industry endorses call for action on cover-over subsidies

Representatives of the rum industry meeting in Jamaica recently have endorsed a call to action by Guyana’s President David Granger, for the region to use its diplomatic strength to help resolve the danger posed to the survival of the industry through the tax rebates passed on to rum producers in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI).

The US government makes annual payments to the two territories out of federal excise taxes. So, when rum is produced in either the USVI or Puerto Rico and then sold in the US, the federal excise tax on that rum is returned to its place of production.

According to President Granger, these cover-over subsidies pose an immediate threat to the long term viability of the rum industry, a sector of tremendous social and economic importance to Caribbean economies.

He said Caribbean countries stand to lose US$700 million per annum in export earnings and taxes, with up to 15,000 jobs being affected unless the situation is addressed. In the case of Guyana, he said, it was in the national interest to ensure survival and sustainability of the industry noting that the industry must be protected and preserved in the face of this peril.

Granger was speaking at the launch of the Demerara Distillers 50th Anniversary Edition Rum in Georgetown.

Speaking after the meeting, Chairman of the West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association (WIRSPA), Frank Ward, said producers “were very encouraged by the President’s statement”.

“The group is extremely concerned about the situation in the US market where some of our producers have already experienced significant losses,” he said.

“We believe this is the most significant threat ever faced by our industry and one most likely to impact on profitability and our ability to earn foreign exchange and maintain employment. Not only are we seeing the effects in the US market, but in other markets as well as the product moves around, which means that our producers will also face new disadvantages in these markets.”

Following discussions among producers in Jamaica, he said, WIRSPA hoped that the CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) would address the matter again during their next meeting later in the year. He said WIRSPA stood ready to apprise them of the latest developments in the markets and to seek their continuing support.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

Cuba-EU human rights dialogue moves forward despite differences

HAVANA, Cuba (ACN) -- A round of talks on human rights between Cuba and the European Union (EU) was held in Havana on Sunday, June 6, when, despite profound differences, both parties agreed they had made advances.

According to the ministry of foreign affairs of Cuba (MINREX), the discussions were presided over by Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union's special representative for human rights, and Ambassador Pedro Núñez Mosquera, general director of multilateral affairs and international law of MINREX.

The dialogue was aimed at creating areas of debate, expanding knowledge on the respective realities and exploring possibilities of cooperation in the fields where there were points of coincidence.

The delegations tackled specific issues of human rights as defined previously by the parties, both in the fields of civic and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural ones.

The Cuban ministry release stated there were profound differences in positions and points of view in several issues, but the talks were held in a respectful manner and they maintained a willingness to address any issue with full respect to sovereignty, independence, non-interference on the internal affairs of the parties and the reciprocal character of the talks.

Cuba expressed its interest in this dialogue to contribute to an efficient, constructive and non discriminatory human rights process, and to move forward in the process of having better relations between the Caribbean nation and the European bloc.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

Opposition wins St. Lucia election

By Caribbean News Now contributor

CASTRIES, St Lucia -- The opposition United Workers Party (UWP) has won the general election in Saint Lucia, beating the ruling St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) 11 seats to six, effectively reversing the result of the last election in 2011.

According to the Electoral Office, 160,465 voters were eligible to cast ballots at the 430 polling stations across the island, choosing from among 39 candidates vying for the 17 seats in the country’s parliament.

The SLP of outgoing prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony and the UWP of businessman and former tourism minister Allen Chastanet both fielded full slates of 17 candidates.

Based on preliminary published figures, voter turnout was a modest 52.85 percent.

In his concession message, Anthony said he does not intend to serve as the leader of the opposition or as political leader of the SLP.

“I will, however, continue to serve my constituents of Vieux-Fort South and support my other Parliamentary colleagues in their various constituencies as they seek to protect the interests of their constituents,” he said.

The full constituency results are as follows:

SLP
Castries East – Philip J. Pierre
Castries South – Ernest Hilaire
Dennery North – Shawn Edward
Laborie SLP – Alva Baptiste
Vieux-Fort South – Dr Kenny Anthony
Vieux-Fort North – Moses Jn Baptiste

UWP
Anse La Raye-Canaries – Dominic Fedee
Babonneau – Ezekiel Joseph
Castries Central – Sarah Flood-Beaubrun
Castries North – Stephenson King
Castries South East – Guy Joseph
Choiseul-Saltibus – Bradley John Felix
Dennery South – Edmund Estephane
Gros Islet – Lenard ‘Spider’ Montoute
Micoud North – Dr Gale Rigobert
Micoud South – Allen Chastanet
Soufriere-Fond St Jacques – Herold Stanislas

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

Cuba says it won't rejoin OAS while Venezuela threatened with suspension

In a show of solidarity with long-time ally Venezuela, Cuban President Raul Castro says his country will not return to the Organization of American States (OAS), which he recently called “an instrument of imperialist domination.”

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962, but following a recent thaw in relations with the US it was suggested that the Caribbean communist country might return.

Castro nevertheless appeared to rule that out, offering instead “our most firm solidarity to our brothers the Venezuelan people, to the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro.”

Maduro is currently locked in a dispute with the OAS over opposition demands in Venezuela for a recall referendum.

OAS Secretary-General Luis Almargo said last week that “the institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch.”

He has called an emergency meeting of the OAS at which member states will decide whether to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the regional group.

The OAS head wants members to evaluate whether Venezuela has suffered an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order.”

Venezuelan opposition politicians urged the OAS to call the meeting.

Maduro reacted angrily, accusing the OAS of “foreign intervention” and ordering it to leave Venezuela and the Americas.

He also said he would bring charges against the leaders of Congress who had requested the OAS to intervene, saying they had betrayed the nation.

The Maduro administration has been coming under increasing pressure to work with the opposition-controlled National Assembly to ease the political and economic tension in the South American country.

The two sides have been engaged in a stand-off since the opposition coalition won control of the National Assembly in parliamentary elections in December.

Opposition politicians say their every move is thwarted by the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council, bodies they allege have been stacked with Maduro supporters.

They say there is no separation of powers and that under Maduro’s leadership and that of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, the judiciary has become an enforcer of the executive branch.

They point to the fact that the Supreme Court blocked key legislation, such as an amnesty law which would have freed jailed opposition politicians, as evidence of what they say is a misuse of power by Maduro.

Opposition politicians also accuse the president of trying to block a key recall referendum which could see Venezuelans vote on whether they want Maduro to finish his term or be removed from office.

A National Assembly delegation met recently with OAS head Almagro to ask him to invoke the Inter-American democratic charter.

Under the charter, the OAS secretary-general can call a meeting of the OAS Permanent Council to address situations where he or she considers that a member state’s democratic order is at risk.

If two thirds of OAS members consider that Venezuela’s government has undermined democracy, the country will be suspended from the OAS.

The meeting is expected to coincide with the meeting of the OAS General Assembly in the Dominican Republic between 13 and 15 June.

Relations between the OAS and Venezuela have been strained for years but worsened in recent months as Maduro and Almagro traded insults.

Maduro accused the OAS head of being a CIA agent, while Almagro said that preventing the recall referendum from going ahead made Maduro “another petty dictator.”

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

Caribbean states need to work harder on unity, says ACS Secretary General

HAVANA, Cuba (ACN) -- The secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Alfonso Múnera said that, despite advances in unity by the member states of the bloc, they are not enough to overcome the great challenges the region faces today.

During his opening speech at the seventh ACS summit in Havana on Saturday, Múnera said the Greater Caribbean must deal with decisive moments in the face of huge challenges, since the island nations are at a disadvantage in world markets competing against international multinationals.

He pointed out that a new factor jeopardizes the fate of the region, climate change, because it has a terrible impact on all countries in the Caribbean Sea basin. He mentioned the growing ferocity of hurricanes that wreak havoc in the region, and the loss of useful land to the rising sea levels.

“Only together we will be able to face successfully the problems we have,” he said.

Achieving unity is hard, he acknowledged, and though we have made progress, it is not enough still. He said it was important to create a sense of unity amidst diversity and to build a Caribbean identity that doesn't exclude others, but encourages them.

He ascribed great importance to the ACS to reduce the rising disparity, to reaffirm commitments to peace and to achieve better societies.

Múnera thanked Cuba and especially President Raul Castro for organizing this summit, and the permanent support to the organization

The Colombian diplomat has led the ACS for four years, and will pass the job next August to St Lucia’s Ambassador June Soomer.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

CARICOM Competition Commission probes CWC takeover of Columbus

CARICOM’s Competition Commission (CCC) has launched an investigation into the acquisition of by Cable and Wireless Communications Plc (CWC) to acquire Columbus International.

“The investigation will focus on the impact of the Agreement on competition in the telecommunications sector of members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) which comprise the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL),” it said in a statement.

“The Commission has appointed an investigating panel…to coordinate the investigation into this matter…The Commission expects to complete the investigation within 120 working days with the cooperation of all stakeholders.”

The Suriname-based CCC said the investigation follows the findings of a preliminary examination of the acquisition agreement.

Following the merger announcement, which saw CWC – at the time trading in the Caribbean as LIME– subsuming the regional operations of Columbus, the parent company of FLOW, ECTEL had expressed concerns about the impact it would have on the telecoms market in the Eastern Caribbean.

In March, it said that negotiations with Cable & Wireless regarding the company’s proposed merger with Columbus Communications International have ended without the parties coming to an amicable agreement.

While existing legislation does not give ECTEL the power to stop or put conditions on mergers and acquisitions in the telecommunications sector, the Authority had been working along with the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commissions (NTRCs) to reach agreement on several issues, ever since the merger was announced in November 2014.

Those issues included: the minimum speed and price for entry level broadband packages; maintaining an open Internet; sharing of telecommunications infrastructure for existing and new entrants to provide new services; and protection provisions to ensure customers are not disadvantaged by new services and pricing to be implemented following the merger.

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

The new faces of the CARILEC Board

The Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation (CARILEC), the association of electric utilities, suppliers, manufactures and other stakeholders operating in the electricity industry in the region, has a new chairman and other directors.

Grenada Electricity Services Ltd (GRENLEC) Chief Executive Officer, Collin Cover to serve as Chairman of the CARILEC Board for the 2016-2018 term, at CARILEC’s recent 28th Annual General Meeting in Grand Cayman.

Cover is an accomplished energy professional with over 35 years’ industry experience. He also served as Vice Chairman of the CARILEC board from 2015-2016.

During the meeting, directors whose term had expired were elected to renew their positions, and two additional directors – Bertilia Le Blanc- McKenzie, General Manager of Dominica Electricity Services Ltd (DOMLEC) and Franklin Hoevertsz, Managing Director of Utilities Aruba – were elected to serve on the board.

At the previously held Associate Member Caucus, Gianni Moreno was appointed Associate Member representative on the CARILEC Board, and Edmund Phillip as Alternate Associate Member Representative.

CARILEC Board of Directors:

Collin Cover, Grenada Electricity Services Ltd. – Chairman

Jeffrey Locke, Belize Electricity Ltd. – Vice Chairman

Peter Williams, Barbados Light and Power Company Ltd.

Trevor Louisy, St. Lucia Electricity Services Ltd.

Thornley Myers, St. Vincent Electricity Services, Ltd.

Walter Higgins, Bermuda Electric Light Co.

Eddinton Powell, Fortis TCI Ltd. (Turks & Caicos)

Leroy Abraham, BVI Electricity Corp.

Kevin Basden, Bahamas Electricity Corp.

Cartwright Farrell, St. Kitts Electricity Co., Ltd.

Kelly Tomlin, Jamaica Public Services Ltd.

Bertilia Le Blanc-McKenzie, Dominica Electricity Services Ltd.

Courtenay Mark, Trinidad & Tobago Electricity Commission

Thomas Hodge – CARILEC Executive Director

Gianni Moreno, ABB Power Products and Power Systems

Edmund Philips, Wartsila

Courtesy: Caribbean 360

Caribbean countries expanding share in US$130 billion global seafood market

BELIZE CITY, Belize (CRFM) -- Caribbean economies are poised to benefit from a region-wide initiative to expand seafood market share, through the implementation of food safety measures to enable countries to get a bigger piece of the global pie, worth an estimated US$130 billion annually.

Caribbean countries, including The Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, are now capitalizing on a coordinated approach to broaden the gateway to the growing market. CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) now exports about US$400 million worth of fish and seafood annually.

Belize and Jamaica are two Caribbean seafood exporters already tapping into markets controlled by the European Union (EU) -- a tough market to access because of stringent standards that require countries have systems in place to ensure that their exports are not only safe for consumption but also free from harmful pests and pathogens.

In the case of Belize, which has traditionally exported shrimp to the EU, it is moving to export conch to that market for the first time, according to Endhir Sosa, senior food safety inspector, Belize.

Sosa was among the 18 professionals from CARIFORUM who recently received management training on sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) in Iceland. The training was offered under the capacity-building component of an EU-sponsored project to implement SPS Measures under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) regime. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) are collaborating to implement the fisheries component of the project.

Demystifying SPS

Sosa broke down the meaning of this very technical term, which could just as well be the acronym for ‘safe and profitable seafood’.

“In a nutshell, it’s just a series of procedures, of guidelines, of requirements, that one needs to implement to basically prove that what they are producing is safe,” the food safety expert commented.

“Confidence is what is key! It is what everybody seeks when it comes to the purchase and consumption of food products,” he said, adding, “SPS is one of those routes where you can establish that confidence in your product.”

Sosa noted, “Once you have an established SPS system in place and it is vetted and it’s shown to be functional, that will open markets locally, regionally and internationally.”

This has been the case for Belize.

“When BAHA [the Belize Agricultural Health Authority] first started in 2000, you could count the number of countries we were exporting to on your hand. It wasn’t more than 5 to 7. Today, thanks to SPS, thanks to the confidence that our SPS program has put into our products, not only fish, the markets have increased almost three-fold. Now we have a little over 30 markets,” Sosa said.

Building SPS capacity

Chairman of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, Denzil Roberts, who is also the chief fisheries officer in Guyana, noted: “The fisheries sector within the CARIFORUM region continues to play an important role in rural development, food and nutrition security, income generation and foreign exchange earnings. However, it must be recognized that there is a paucity of skilled personnel within the region to further develop the sector in keeping with the emerging challenges.”

The intensive two-week training course recently held in Iceland served to help fill this knowledge gap in the Caribbean.

Susan Singh-Renton, the CRFM’s deputy executive director, noted, “The CRFM/UNU-FTP SPS Management Course has been very successful in achieving its objective of exposing CARIFORUM Fisheries and Agricultural Health and Food Safety experts to the key lessons and best practices of the Icelandic fishing industry in producing safe and wholesome fishery products of an international standard.”

She added, “At the close of the course, participants reflected on and also documented how they would apply what they had learned to improve fisheries SPS management in their home countries.”

Jeannette Mateo, director of fisheries resources at the Dominican Council for Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA) in the Dominican Republic, suggested that nationals in her country, such as biologists, inspectors, fisheries officers and consumer protection agents, should be trained in basic concepts of SPS.

For his part, Roberts hopes that the trainees will immediately begin to impart what they have learned to others in their national networks. Roberts furthermore hopes that trainees will implement internationally recognized safety standards for seafood, thereby safeguarding the health of the local population while ensuring market access to meet global market demands.

Singh-Renton said that the CRFM will also strive to do its part to provide follow-up regional support for improved SPS management for the region's fishing industries, including facilitating continued networking among the course participants.

Gatekeepers guard against food fraud

“One of the more frequent but often overlooked problems within the Caribbean is food fraud and mislabeling,” noted Dr Wintorph Marsden, senior veterinary officer in Jamaica’s ministry of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.

Marsden said that Jamaica is considered a major transshipment hub for fish and fishery products to the wider Caribbean region, and so the burden is on Jamaica, as a first point of entry, to implement a system of verification of products entering its food chain.

To combat food fraud, it is an absolute necessity to introduce traceability, said Marsden. This can now be done electronically, with modern systems of recording, such as the use barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and other tracking media within the production chain.

In the Dominican Republic, Mateo’s job is to review all the supporting documentation for seafood imports and exports.

She observed, though, “Some of these documents might have statements to make the consumers believe that they are getting a high-quality product while they are actually getting products with less quality and deliberate mislabeling.”

An example, she said, is fish from the genus Pangasius, a catfish primarily sourced from the Asian market, which is being sold cheaply in the region and marketed at times as “grouper” -- not only at supermarkets but also at some restaurants.

“While in Iceland, I learned that deliberate mislabeling of food, the substitution of products with cheaper alternatives, and false statements about the origin of foods, are all food fraud,” Mateo said.

“This is relevant to the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, where imported fish are in some cases marketed at lower prices than the local ones, not only due to the lower production cost of fish products such as tilapia and Pangasius (catfish – sold as ‘basa’ or ‘swai’) in comparison with those produced in the country, but also because of unfair practices in trade,” Mateo said.

She said that as a result of the Iceland training, the Dominican Republic is now in the final stage of building an improved national SPS system for fishery and aquaculture products which was initiated with the support of the government of Chile.

Safe and healthy food also vital at home

Whereas the move to implement SPS measures was originally focused on export trade, regional experts also indicate that they are vital to food safety and health even within the region.

“The Caribbean is known to be a huge importer of food products,” Sosa noted. “We have to look after our population, we have to look after the health of our people, we have to look after the health of our environment and our agricultural products; and thus SPS -- although at this point it is mostly the industrialized countries that are pushing it, that are requiring it—should be really and truly across the board.”

Science-based risk assessment and risk analysis of imports are also key in protecting vital agriculture and fisheries industries.

“We have been mandated with the task of being the gatekeepers when it comes to food safety and agricultural health and we take that responsibility very seriously. Sometimes the public will get angry with us, because they truly don’t understand why we are doing this. ‘Why can’t I bring this across the border?’ But the realization is that if a disease [is introduced], it could potentially destroy an entire industry -- whether it be, for example, bringing across poultry with avian influenza, or bringing in diseased shrimp—it could wipe out an entire multi-million-dollar industry,” Sosa warned.

Positioning small producers for export

Sosa noted that SPS measures were initially geared towards industrial markets but now they are encouraging small producers to position themselves for export by implementing SPS measures.

“They might not have the finance to construct an elaborate facility, but we can start with the basics,” said Sosa, pointing to “good manufacturing practices and the sanitation standard operating procedures,” which, he said, would build confidence in products from even small producers.

More importantly, he said, implementing SPS measures is the first step that producers will need to make to even think about trading on the world market.

Courtesy: Caribbean News Now

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