December 4, 1998

A treaty on collective economic security could be a vital "pillar" to help the Organization of American States (OAS) deal with economic emergencies, such as the recent hurricane devastation of Central American countries, the Organization’s Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Christopher R. Thomas, has said.

In an address on Wednesday to a joint session of the OAS Permanent Council and the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), the deputy head of the OAS elaborated on a range of ideas on how the OAS could become more effective, more efficient and more relevant at the forefront of the issues of greatest concern and importance to the people of the hemisphere. The joint working group has been charged with drawing up guidelines to move the OAS forward as a stronger and modernized institution.

Ambassador Thomas said the idea of a collective economic security mechanism would be particularly useful and timely given the move towards negotiations on hemispheric free trade. "That implies a certain economic stability of the hemisphere," said the OAS official, referring to the proposed free trade area, adding that were there to occur a "disruption of that economic stability in any one member or region, then the entire question of free trade agreement will suffer a tremendous setback."

To provide the Permanent Council support in developing what he said would be a more pertinent and more comprehensive hemispheric agenda, Ambassador Thomas also proposed the formation of a political department of the OAS. He explained that such a department would help a renewed and modernized Permanent Council re-establish the OAS in a central role within the process that has been entrusted to the Summit Implementation Review Group (SIRG).

At the special meeting, which was called to consider Ambassador Thomas’ views on modernizing the OAS, the Assistant Secretary General also suggested the possibility of an elected chair of the Permanent Council, the second ranking OAS body after the General Assembly. The idea also received support from a number of the delegations that took the floor later. Currently, the chairmanship is on a rotating basis among the member states. 

He also called for a stronger role for the OAS’ offices in the member countries and said the structure of the Organization’s main bodies should be further reviewed for more a effective operation and interconnection. Ambassador Thomas also made the case for a more active role in the OAS for the permanent observer countries and agencies, and for civil society institutions.