June 30, 2008


Caricom's conflicting signals
Source: Jamaica Observer
Sunday, June 29, 2008

LATEST INDICATION of significant differences among member governments of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) has come from Guyana on the eve of this week's 29th Caricom Summit that gets underway on Tuesday (July 1) in St John's, Antigua.

It was the disclosure last Wednesday in Georgetown by President Bharrat Jagdeo that, based on further information and legal advice obtained, the Guyana Government may not join Community partners in signing next month the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that was initialled last December in Barbados between representatives of the European Commission (EU) and CARIFORUM (Caricom plus Dominican Republic).

Prior to this development, and amid conflicting signals on moving the process forward to access the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final appellate institution for Community partners, there was the recent verbal blast by Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves over "political decision-making" in Caricom and his scathing dismissal of the Community Secretariat's functioning as "a ramshackle political-administrative apparatus..."

It is likely that Secretary General Edwin Carrington may allude in his remarks at the opening session, to Gonsalves' criticisms that were made on June 16 when he addressed the launch of public consultations on the draft OECS Economic Union Treaty.

The Vincentian leader, who will be briefing his Community colleagues on an alleged plot involving drug dealers to assassinate him, had said that he was "satisfied that the politics of a limited regional engagement in Jamaica shackled by the ghosts from the federal referendum; the politics of ethnicity in Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana; a mistaken sense of 'uniqueness, specialness and separation' among large sections of the Barbadian populace; the peculiar distinctiveness of Haiti and Suriname, and the cultivated aloofness from the regional enterprise by The Bahamas, are destined in the foreseeable future to keep Caricom as a 'Community of sovereign states' in which several of its member states jealously guard a vaunted and pristine sovereignty...." Conflicting policies and attitudes towards advancing the process of free movement of Caricom nationals; differences over foreign policy issues as well as in approaches for attracting foreign investment and economic aid have also been causing concerns in more recent times among member governments and other stakeholders.

Those Caricom leaders who last week participated in the New York Conference on the Caribbean are reported to have been exposed to a common thread in the thinking of US lawmakers and financial investors in favour of dealing with Caricom as a common entity and not with fragmentation on the edges in terms of less or more developed member states.

So far as embracing the new trade and economic package with the 25-member European Union is concerned, even prior to the conclusion negotiations for a full EPA, Guyana's president had expressed strong reservations in contrast to a very favourable response from Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who shoulders lead responsibility for the Community's Prime Ministerial Sub-committee on External Economic Negotiations.

Among suggestions surfacing for discussion on signing arrangement for the EPA is that it be put on hold and for initiatives to be pursued instead for a special summit of the 78-member African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) to, hopefully, arrive at some common positions on core aspects of the regional accords before any meeting with EU representatives for a signing ceremony which Barbados has already agreed to host.

Both Jagdeo and Golding are scheduled to be among five heads of government to address Tuesday evening's ceremonial opening of the four-day summit. This has aroused new interest about the tone and content of their planned messages to the people of the 15-member Community.

For Golding, who became prime minister following last September's general election at which his Jamaica Labour Party secured a 32-28 parliamentary victory, it will be his debut address to a Caricom heads of government conference.
He would be expected to also signal his administration's position in relation to Caricom's Regional Development Fund (RDF) which is scheduled to be officially launched during this week's summit.
Status of allocated contributions by member states to enable operationalising of the RDF is viewed as essential to its formal launching. With the exception of St Lucia which has almost completed its fixed initial allocation, the OECS countries are either far below or like Grenada and summit host Antigua and Barbuda, are still to come forward with their contributions. In contrast, Barbados has already paid up US$5 (five) million of its allotted share of US$11 million.

Creation of the estimated US$250-million fund, for which Trinidad and Tobago will be the single largest contributor among Caricom with an overall pledge of approximately US$120 million, and has already fully paid up its initial contribution of US$37 million was strongly advocated by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) as a mechanism to provide special and differential treatment for enhancing socio-economic development for the less-developed countries.

The rest of Caricom responded by turning to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for expert guidance in creation of the RDF with the understanding that the countries of the OECS in particular will be on board by mid-2007 for the Community's single market as other partner states had done in January last year and with all working together for the realisation of a single economy by 2015.

Should member states fail to honour pledged commitments they could jeopardise the prospects of the fund attracting resources from foreign donor nations and international financial institutions. A major provision for accessing the fund is the denial of resources to defaulting contributors.

After a series of postponements, launching of the RDF would be a positive development in the face of lingering uncertainties about the way forward for Caricom - the regional economic integration movement that was inaugurated five years after the birth of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) in 1968 (not 1965 as incorrectly appeared in an earlier article).

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