This year, the World Trade Organization (WTO) marks 25 years since its establishment on 1st January 1995. It will be holding its 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in Nur-Sultan, Kazakstan, June 8-11 at a critical point in its short history.

Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have been members of the WTO since its inception.

Today, only the Bahamas is not a WTO member, but is an Observer negotiating its accession. Currently, CARICOM members represented in Geneva are Barbados, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and a joint Eastern Caribbean (OECS) representation. Other CARICOM members are accredited out of Brussels and London.

The CARICOM members endeavour to coordinate their participation at the WTO. The current group coordinator is the Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago.

Alliance-building is important to the CARICOM members in advancing their positions. Thus they also work through the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. The WTO is the only multilateral body in which the ACP now functions. From its Summit in Nairobi, this group plans to strengthen its presence in the multilateral arena. The Permanent Representative of Jamaica is currently the ACP Coordinator in Geneva.

Another alliance involving CARICOM members is the Small Vulnerable Economies (SVEs) group which is specifically promoting the interests of small developing country members.

CARICOM Permanent Representatives are actively engaged in the work of the WTO. The current chair of the Agriculture Negotiating Group is the Permanent Representative of Guyana. Over several years, Jamaica was chair of the Special Session on Trade and Development and of the Rules Negotiating Group which deals with issues such as fisheries subsidies. Barbados has been a leader in the SVEs group.

The CARICOM representatives, however, require support from the CARICOM Secretariat and their capitals, where stakeholders quite often appear to be steps behind in their understanding of the issues.

It was heartening to read that a CARICOM Workshop on WTO issues was held in Barbados, January 8-10. It seems that the aim was to assist regional officials to better understand the issues and develop positions as preparations for MC12 gather momentum.

The workshop covered WTO reform including the development status of members (special and differential treatment) and dispute settlement, fisheries subsidies, agriculture, electronic commerce (e-commerce), services...

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