We must get accustomed to reading and hearing about the formation of new NGOs as we move towards the establishment of FTAA and WTO, commencing with the FTAA in 2005. The European Community and the USA are bent on ensuring the involvement of NGOs as vehicles for sensitizing the citizens of participating nations. The leaders of the world’s economic affairs are conscious of the fact that in the final analysis, the citizens will be the beneficiaries of the results, whether good or bad. Civil Society has been targeted this time around as pivotal to the success of any agreement of the nature of those mentioned that will have long term effects on the citizens of the world.

We have seen demonstrations in the past at various meetings, some so hostile that meetings had to be suspended, be it Whaling or Trade. It is important to note that these demonstrations were organized by NGOs who claimed to have the support of civil society. The time has come for civil society, through its representatives drawn from participating nations to be welcomed around the negotiating table.

It is against this background that the meeting coordinated by the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), St. Lucia Chapter to bring about the formation of the National Working Committee on Trade (NWCT) was necessary and timely. Representatives were invited from several groupings of Civil Society in St. Lucia. The meeting was held at the Green Parrot Hotel on Friday, May 16, 2003. Similar organizations are being set up in other Caribbean States as part of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre’s thrust to mobilize and build the capacity of civil society to influence the negotiating positions of policy makers in trade negotiations

The NWTC will receive its impetus and thrust from the Caribbean (NGO) Reference Group on External Relations (CRG) and its role will be as follows:

  • To implement the CRG’s educational and advocacy programmes on trade liberalization on a national level.
  • To input national concerns, debates, research and positions into the overall CRG position.
  • To provide education for national Civil Society Organisation (CSO) and the general public about the various trade processes; specifically the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), Cotonou and the Caricom Single Market & Economy (CSME) and their likely impact on the region.
  • To train CSOs to assume a consultative role in trade and economic negotiations.
  • To define and implement strategies for national level civil society response to liberalization which can feed into a wider regional response.

The meeting was well attended and was chaired by Mrs. Flavia Cherry. Ms. Nelcia Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of CAFRA was on hand to encourage the gathering. Mrs. Cherry explained the objectives of the proposed organization and after several contributions by persons present, the following persons were elected to the Executive:- Mrs. Flavia Cherry – Chairperson, Mr. Michael Mc. Combie – Deputy Chairperson, Mr. Edward Harris – Press officer, Mrs. Yhasmine Remy – Secretary.

The Committee will be official launched shortly. In the meantime, it will take its programmes to citizens around the island in the form of Town Hall Meetings, commencing early June.

A few months ago an attempt was made to establish a National Coalition of Service Industries bringing together all local services associations including the private sector associations. The initiative was promoted by the Caricom Secretariat but did not get the level of response that would have pushed the process of establishing the group. NCSIs are established in Barbados and Jamaica and other States pursuing FTAA negotiations.

The reality is that we have a new organization in our midst and it is hoped that the objective so much talked about these days - to reach civil society and provide them with information about the progress of the trade negotiations and get their feed back for input into national/regional position would be achieved. There is still room for other similar organizations and it is hoped that the initiate to form the National Coalition of Service Industries is not lost.

Let us give Mrs. Cherry and her team the necessary support to ensure that the organization serves the purpose for which it was established.

Keep the Faith! In the meantime, make your contribution to the process of educating and informing civil society about the bread and butter issues that confront us.