FIX CARICOM: That's the problem
Web Posted - Wed Aug 27 2008
BY Sir Ronald Sanders
Source: Barbados Advocate
FOUR Caribbean leaders signed a Joint Declaration on August 14 in Trinidad to achieve the Single Economy by 2011 and appropriate Political Integration by 2013 in the Caribbean Community.
Just how the four leaders plan to accomplish these two feats is unclear, particularly as the only governments they could commit were their own; they could not speak for the other eleven governments of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
The four leaders were Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago, Tillman Thomas of Grenada, Stephenson King of St Lucia and Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Manning did invite the President of Guyana, Bharat Jagdeo, and the Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, to the meeting but they declined, sending their foreign ministers instead. Significantly, neither of the two foreign Ministers signed the Declaration, not even as observers.
However, the Barbados foreign minister let his government's position be known at a press conference on August 20th. He said Barbados' major responsibility is the implementation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy by 2015 (to which governments have already agreed) and he wished any other union well. In other words, Barbados has no interest in being part of the Trinidad Declaration.
The government of Guyana has said absolutely nothing. Its silence can be interpreted as a lack of interest.
The Jamaica government was quick to state that while it respects their right to establish a political union, the decision by the four leaders has implications for the structure and, indeed, the future of CARICOM and a request would be made for the issue to be brought for discussions at the highest level of CARICOM.
The Jamaican concerns are shared by others. Among the governments that would be concerned are the Bahamas, and Suriname, who were not invited to the meeting and who had to be as surprised as anyone else to learn of the Trinidad Declaration by way of the media.
Three member governments of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Kitts-Nevis which were also not invited to the meeting, would be particularly concerned because one of the objectives, as revealed by Manning, is to bring them into the arrangement of a Single Economy by 2011 and appropriate political integration by 2013. They would be right in feeling that they ought to have been consulted, before the Declaration was made.
Manning and Tillman tried to involve these three OECS members after the fact by flying into their countries to try to explain the Declaration. However, if the OECS countries are to join a single economy and appropriate political integration with Trinidad and Tobago, surely such a major undertaking ought to have been discussed by the OECS first and with the benefit of technical studies that would advise any decision that the leaders might make.
In the Declaration, the four signatory states undertook to move beyond the characterisation of CARICOM as being a grouping of sovereign states. This suggests that they want to move CARICOM into a single sovereign entity, a political community of some kind. However, that decision could not possibly be made by four member states without the concurrence of the other eleven countries.
The motivation for the initiative by the four, as contained in the Trinidad Declaration, is that they recognise the imperatives of responding in a more immediate manner to increasing changes in the international economic and political environment and the consequent need for the urgent re-organisation of our economies and governance arrangements for enhancing our development and beneficial integration into the global economy. The motivation is understandable and so is the action that is contemplated.
However, CARICOM does not now have effective governance arrangements because Heads of Government, with a few notable exceptions, such as Gonsalves and Manning, have refused to put in place a Caribbean Commission which would act as a supranational organ to implement decisions and be responsible for implementing policies for all member states in areas such as the Single Market, trade negotiations and crime and security.
So if CARICOM cannot respond in a more immediate manner to the grave challenges that confront its member states individually and collectively, it is because Caribbean leaders have refused to move, as the countries of the European Union (EU) did, to establish a Commission vested with authority in critical areas and by enforceable law to oversee and implement Community policies.
There is a continuing refusal to accept that sovereignty of individual Caribbean countries is merely notional. And, clinging on to the unrealistic notion instead of realistically pooling their sovereignty does nothing but retard their prospects for any semblance of economic and political autonomy in a highly competitive world.
The four countries will get nowhere with the vague objective of appropriate political integration by 2013 in the Caribbean community. Not because Jamaica will not accept it; none of the others will either. The word appropriate is pregnant with problems. What would be appropriate political integration? A federal system of government, a unitary community in which all previous sovereignties are merged, or just a set or agreements, enforceable by law, to co-operate in specific areas?
The frustration of the four leaders and their desire to do something to speed up change in CARICOM is understandable. But, it is very doubtful that this initiative in its present form will move forward. Even if the four decided to construct their own single economy (which would be a third circle of single economies after the CSME and the OECS Economic Union) achieving it would be difficult, and would break-up the OECS for the countries would have to choose between the EC dollar and the Trinidad dollar. Trinidad is unlikely to choose the EC dollar which would mean revaluing its currency and making its exports more expensive.
Of course, the four countries could opt to leave both CARICOM and the OECS to do their own thing. But that would be the worse of all worlds. CARICOM's governance is the problem. They should fix it, not construct another weak institution.
(The writer is a business consultant and former Caribbean diplomat.)
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