Incoming Caricom chair: Covid19 remains top priority in 2022

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

John Briceno was expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Thursday after romping to victory in the country’s general election. –

SIGNIFICANTLY increasing the level of covid19 vaccinations and ensuring equitable access to vaccines will be critical for recovery and sustainable development in the region.

Belize Prime Minister John Briceno expressed these views ahead of assuming the chairmanship of Caricom next month.

He will replace outgoing chairman, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, whose term ended on Friday.

In a statement, Briceno reflected on the profound social and economic turmoil the pandemic has inflicted upon the Caribbean and the rest of the world over the last two years.

“The prospects for our recovery hinge on the urgent acceleration of vaccinations, which remain alarmingly low in our community. Further delay in equitable access to vaccines will stress our health systems and personnel, and delay our economic recovery.”

Despite the challenges the region continues to face as a result of the pandemic, Briceno was heartened by co-operation, collaboration and solidarity amongst Caricom member states in combating the virus.

He said this reflected a clear affirmation of the necessity and dividends of regional integration.

As the Caribbean enters 2022 with hope and optimism, Briceno is confident the region has “the requisite capacities, strategies and plans, and the will and courage to forge a resilient and prosperous Caribbean Community.”

He said, “While responding to the pandemic we have also been crafting the framework for a regional recovery which aligns with our aspirations for sustainable development and resilience.”

The work of Caricom’s Special Ministerial Task Force on Food Production and Food Security is an example of a critical initiative in 2022 to advance actions to stimulate economic growth and fortify regional food systems against supply-chain disruptions.

Briceno said, “The pandemic has underscored the importance of integrating digital technologies into our economic, social and governance structures.”

To this end, he cited the acceleratiom of the digital transformation of the single Caribbean space, via the Regional Digital Development Strategy,as another key initiative Caricom will pursue in 2022..Other than covid19, Briceno said the situation in Haiti continues to engage Caricom’s attention.

“The precarious political, social, economic and security situations present a formidable challenge. We will continue to reach out to all the stakeholders, as we seek to support all Haitians in arriving at a Haitian-led solution. This is the only way forward for peace and stability.”

There was social, economic and political upheaval in Hait after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7. Ariel Henry was appointed acting president as discussions continue on a possible new presidential election on February 7, when Moise’s term would have ended.

Briceno also identified the strengthening of strategic alliances as important to Caricom in 2022 and moving forward. These include strengthening ties with African nations, as a result of the first Caricom-Africa summit this year, and with island states in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Briceno said the latter was important owing to the mutual interest Caricom shares with these nations as small island states, in the wider context of climate change.