The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean

The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean

The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States, OECS, came into being on 18 June 1981, when seven Eastern Caribbean countries signed a treaty, agreeing to co-operate with each other and promote unity and solidarity among their Member States. This treaty became known as the Treaty of Basseterre, so named in honour of the capital city where it was signed.The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean. The member States of the OECS are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The British Virgin Islands and Anguilla are associate members.

Following the collapse of the West Indies Federation and prior to the signing of the Treaty of Basseterre, two caretaker bodies were created: the West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers (WISA) in 1966, formed to “administer such common services of the participating territories and to perform such other functions as may be agreed upon from time to time”, and the Eastern Caribbean Common Market (ECCM) in 1968 which aimed “to promote a harmonious and equitable development of the Eastern Caribbean sub-region.”

As the islands, one by one, gained their independence from Britain it became evident that there was need for a more formal arrangement to pilot the development of the Eastern Caribbean to enable these islands to a level of development similar to, or greater than, that being achieved by some of the more developed countries of the Caribbean Community. So it was that the OECS was established and the WISA Secretariat became the Central Secretariat of the OECS and the ECCM, the Economic Affairs Secretariat (now merged with the Central Secretariat).

THE TREATY The functions of the Organisation as outlined in the Treaty are:

The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean

  • to promote co-operation among the Member States and at the regional and international level;
  • to promote unity and solidarity among the Member States and to defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence;
  • to assist the Member States in the realisation of their obligations and responsibilities to the international community with due regard to the role of the international law as a standard of conduct in their relationships;
  • to seek to achieve the fullest possible level of harmonisation of foreign policy among the Member States; to seek to adopt, as far as possible, common positions on the international issues and to establish and to maintain wherever possible, arrangements for joint overseas representation and/or common services;
  • to promote economic integration among the Member States;
  • to pursue these purposes through its respective institutions by discussion of questions of common concern and by agreement and common action.

The Authority

The OECS Authority is the highest decision-making body of the Organisation. The Authority is the corporate name given to the Heads of Government (Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers) whose decisions direct the work of the Organisation.The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean The OECS Authority meets twice yearly. The chairmanship of the Authority changes every year, rotating alphabetically, according to country name.

The Structure of the Organisation:

The OECS is administered by a Central Secretariat located on the Morne, near Castries, St Lucia. The Secretariat is headed by the Director General who is responsible to the Authority. Over the years several institutions have been created.

The Islands share a single currency, the Eastern Caribbean Dollar ($2.70 ECD = 1 USD). The operation of the currency is overseen by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank,The Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean the Monetary Authority for the seven OECS governments and the government of Anguilla (The British Virgin Islands uses the US Dollar as their de facto currency).

The Islands also share a single Supreme Court: The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court with its two divisions, the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal, administers the laws of each OECS Member State. The Supreme court is headed by the Chief Justice. High Court judges are based in each Member State, but the judges of the Court of Appeal are resident in St Lucia and travel to each territory to hear appeals from the High Court.


The Eastern Caribbean Islands also co-operate in a variety of sectors, with activities spearheaded by specialist units/agencies, most located within the Central Secretariat in Saint Lucia.

In Health, the bulk procurement of pharmaceutical products and other medical supplies is carried out by the ECDS – the Eastern Caribbean Drug Service. Health sector policy reform is the task of the Health Policy Management Unit. It also covers other sectors like health insurances and general health care. For related information, see 485 visa health insurance.

In Education, a multifaceted programme of activities is implemented by the OERU – (OECS Education Reform Unit). The governments also co-operate in primary, secondary and tertiary level education, with respect to curricula and to physical facilities.

Natural Resources Development and Management: The OECS Member States have taken a harmonised approach to providing the policy, legal and administrative framework for the establishment of a regional programme for monitoring and controlling the marine and land-based environment. The NRMU – Natural Resources Management Unit – is charged with this responsibility. It is also responsible for Fisheries

Through a very comprehensive annual sports programme the OECS continues to bring people of the region together in a spirit of friendly competitiveness.

Common Aviation services are provided by the DCA –Directorate of Civil Aviation – and OECS Aeradio, the Telecommunication and Navigational Aids Division.

Agriculture is a major economic sector in many of the islands and bananas in particular. Governments of the Windward Islands, together with their banana producers, jointly own the WIBDECO – the Windward Island Banana Development Company .

Major efforts are also underway to diversify the agricultural sector away from the traditional export crops, the responsibility of EDADU, the Export Development and Agricultural Diversification Unit .

Joint Trade promotion is undertaken by the Export Division of EDADU (formerly ECSEDA).

Joint Investment promotion activities are undertaken by the Washington-based ECIPS- the Eastern Caribbean Investment Promotion Service .

The Legal Unit

The Legal Unit advises the Central Secretariat and all subsidiary institutions of the OECS; and assists in the harmonisation of the laws of the Member States. Some of the more recent achievements of the Unit include the preparation of an Index of Multilateral Treaties; the harmonisation of legislation related to Civil Aviation and the Misuse of Drugs; and the preparation of harmonised legislation related to Customs, and Companies, and Insolvency.

OECS INFONET – The Information Arm

The OECS Information Network, established in 1987, developed a computer-based bibliography of documents held by the Documentation Centres in the Member States and the institutions of the Secretariat.

INFONET’s current responsibilities centre on providing a facilitating mechanism for the coordination of information flows between the institutions of the Secretariat and between the Secretariat and the Member States. In this connection plans are underway to establish e-mail links between the Central Secretariat and the other institutions of the OECS.

Diplomatic Representation

In response to recent economic challenges the Joint Missions of the OECS are being increasingly required to extend the scope of their activities beyond the boundaries of traditional diplomacy, to include modern economic diplomacy and negotiation. The OECS has established Missions in London (three countries), Ottawa (six countries), and more recently in Brussels (six countries). The evolution of the European Single Market, its relationship to the evolving global free trade process and their implications for the functioning of the LomĂ© Convention is now the focus of activity of the Joint Mission in Brussels.

Cooperation with Guadeloupe and Martinique

Since 1990, the OECS has been pursuing a general Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement with the Government of France which would foster trade and economic relations between the French Overseas Departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe, in addition to enhancing cooperation in the spheres of education, sports, culture and health.

OECS Single Market

More recently, (in 1991) OECS Heads of Government agreed to the creation of an OECS Single Market (OSM). The Single Market was conceptualised as the creation of an integrated market across the sub-region, operating as if it were within the borders of a single country. It is, in a manner of speaking, an attempt to rationalise the economic space which the OECS encompasses in terms of the functioning of the Eastern Caribbean Common Market. In this environment it was anticipated that there would be free movement of goods, services, labour and capital; and to facilitate this movement and accelerate the economic development of the region, macroeconomic policy would be co-ordinated and harmonised.

Movement towards the OECS Single Market is still an ongoing process. Progress has been gradual. Efforts have focused on the removal of barriers to the free movement of goods. The CARICOM trade regime has dealt with the agreement on, and implementation of a Common External Tariff (CET). The OSM has proposed legislation for the removal of quantitative restrictions on intra-OECS trade and for the harmonisation of customs regulations, documentation and procedures. But progress in implementing the required reforms now requires to be quickened.

Heads of Government committed themselves to speedier implementation of the Single Market, within the context of elaborating new guidelines for OECS economic development, as indicated in the OECS Development Charter.

Free movement of capital is greatly facilitated by the existence of a monetary union in the OECS. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) is pursuing as variety of initiatives, including improvement in the operations of the money market, and establishment of a Home Mortgage Bank (now agreed), the OECS Stock Exchange and an Enterprise Fund. An effort is also being made to harmonise approaches to levels of domestic taxation and to double taxation agreements with third countries outside the OECS.

Free movement in services has not yet been initiated as part of the policy changes related to the OECS Single Market; and the issue of free movement of labour is now being extensively studied.

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