updated 7/1/2008 11:24:53 AM ET 2008-07-01T15:24:53

Caribbean leaders will seek common strategies to ease the impact of soaring fuel and food prices on their fragile tourism-dependent economies at an annual summit opening Tuesday in Antigua and Barbuda's capital.

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Political leaders of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, will dedicate a full day to discussing ways of maintaining the region's crucial tourism industry in the face of high fuel costs and a soft American economy.

Tourism is the economic cornerstone of the Caribbean, which drew more than 15 million visitors to tropical beach resorts and colonial capitals last year.

Caribbean leaders worry that soaring airline-ticket prices and fewer flights could choke the stream of the vacationers that many tiny islands depend upon.

"We are poised at a very interesting period with some of the challenges that face us," said Harold Lovell, Antigua and Barbuda's Tourism Minister.

During a video conference, Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington told reporters in Antigua that leaders at the four-day gathering will also seek ways to maintain food security.

The Caribbean is grappling with a world food crisis as prices of corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and other farm products skyrocket. High oil prices and growing biofuel production have contributed to the pinch.

Only Grenada won't be represented at the summit, as Prime Minister Keith Mitchell prepares for the southern Caribbean island's parliamentary elections on July 8.

The 2008 summit marks the 35th anniversary of the 1973 signing of the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the Caribbean Community.

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