August 27, 2008


Caricom under threat?
Source: Jamaica Observer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The extraordinary initiative launched by Mr Patrick Manning, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, has raised the sinister spectre of a potential Caricom schism.

Mr Manning, without any apparent prior consultation with the Conference of Heads of Government, invited the prime ministers of St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia and ministers of foreign affairs from Guyana and Barbados, also Caricom's secretary general Mr Edwin Carrington and director general of the OECS Mr Len Ishmael to discuss a coalition of Eastern Caribbean States to culminate with political union in 2015.

Notably absent, along with Suriname and Haiti, was Jamaica, which had neither Mr Golding nor the minister of foreign affairs Ken Baugh in attendance. Either Jamaica was not invited, or the Trinidadian invitation was declined. However, besides the obvious breach of protocol, the meeting carried a subliminal contemplation of "schism". The group is scheduled to meet shortly with the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis to discuss the initiative further.

Throughout their press releases, the group emphasised that their agenda would not affect the current structure of Caricom as established by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. Eventually, this would have to be determined by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which has responsibility for interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

The initiative could have been prompted by frustration with the inordinately slow progress of the CSME that after 35 years since the signing of the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community, there is still no sign of the CSME becoming a complete functioning reality. The Eastern Caribbean states perceive Jamaica as "special", meaning not exactly in step with their objectives and goals.

It has long been surmised that with its growing energy wealth and economic strength, Trinidad and Tobago may decide to act independently and demit Caricom membership in pursuit of closer ties with the Southern Cone countries. However, it is unlikely that such a move would be supported by Trinidad and Tobago's private sector, which relies heavily on the Caricom market and Jamaica in particular, for its continued prosperity. Likewise, the extensive Trinidadian investment in Jamaica would strongly militate against such a fundamental redirection of overseas trade. Even now, it's doubtful if the Trinidadian private sector supports the recent initiative.

Caricom was modelled on the Treaty of Rome 1957 that created the European Economic Community which developed into the European Union, now numbering 27 countries with the future prospect for further expansion. The EU has established the European Parliament, the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice and the European Commission - the executive branch, and is in the process of reformulating its constitution which was rejected earlier by some members for various reasons.

In the Caribbean, the significant stumbling block has been political integration, which many see as essential if Caricom states are to function and progress as a united region. So far, the most cogent proposal has been to follow the EU structure by appointing a Caribbean Commission comprised of three or four commissioners endowed with executive authority to oversee implementation of decisions arrived at by the Conference of Heads of Government. By this method, Caricom would maintain forward movement avoiding the present malaise created by years of procrastination and vacillation. To date, this proposal has not been accepted, leaving the region in an apparent state of suspended animation that may have contributed to Trinidad's pre-emptive action, the purpose of which is stated to be: "collaboration towards achievement of a Single Market and Economy and Political Integration".

Trinidad's initiative could prompt Jamaica to consider its possible exit from Caricom. Significant areas of the Jamaican private sector support this radical prospect. By no means least is the yawning trade deficit that Jamaica has with Trinidad and Tobago, being the principal receptacle for Trinidadian manufactured goods and services. By comparison, the number of Jamaican firms operating in Trinidad is minimal, when compared with Trinidad-owned entities in financial services and manufacturing operating in Jamaica which provide employment, tax revenue and in many cases, very good products and services.

Still, the belief exists within the Jamaican private sector that Jamaica can stand and prosper independently, despite a debt to GDP ratio of around 132 per cent, flat goods production for both export and domestic market, as yet an uncontrolled crime scene and a critical unemployment level.

In the future absence of border taxes in compliance with the EPA, national revenue would be derived principally from diaspora remittances, tourism, maritime trans-shipment activity and communication call centres. The list is not exhaustive. For example; Jamaica, it is claimed, with the removal of the CET, could import rice, oil, natural gas, cement and manufactured goods cheaper from extra-regional sources while maintaining effective food security. Given Jamaica's precarious economic situation, there are still those who believe that economic viability in today's globalised world can yet be achieved by going it alone.

It is notable that Professor Vaughn Lewis, one of the critics of the EPA, together with Professor Norman Girvan and Ambassador Havelock Brewster, has been appointed to prepare a study on a possible political union involving the emerging Eastern Caribbean coalition of nano states.

It is both urgent and imperative that Jamaica and the Trinidad and Tobago government clarify the reason for Jamaica's absence at the meeting in Port of Spain, along with a fuller explanation of the initiative.

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