September 07, 2008

Cross- Purposes in the Caribbean

The Caribbean Pulling in different directions
Published: Jamaica Gleaner
Sunday September 7, 2008

Regionalists are confused. CARICOM leaders are supposed to be charting our future direction in a world of overlapping crises - climate change, energy, food, poverty, crime, HIV/AIDS, and unequal trade.

But, over the last year, the directions in which CARICOM governments have been taking us are conflicting and confusing. The Big Four - Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana - have failed to provide clear leadership in these troubled times.
Take these examples.

Barbados and Guyana have joined the Caribbean Court of Justice. Jamaica and Trinidad have not.

Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad want to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe. Guyana does not.

Trinidad wants a political union with the rest of the Caribbean. Jamaica and Guyana will not join.
Jamaica and Guyana have joined PetroCaribe but Trinidad and Barbados have not.


Rather than overlapping ambitions, CARICOM's Big Four are at cross-purposes.

Worse, the CARICOM project has been put aside. We have spent the past year consumed with the EPA rather than building CARICOM's structures.

The CCJ seems to be in abeyance. There is no new hope of a CARICOM Commission. The single market and economy (CSME) deadline has been put back to 2015.

One would think it makes good sense for CARICOM to deepen its own structures of political, judicial and economic unity before opening up the region to the global forces represented, say, by the EPA, forces whose benefit to the Caribbean are uncertain. We are doing the reverse.
Productive assets

We have the assets to do better as a region. Tourism, mining, oil, agriculture and manufacturing are valuable assets that the Big Four have. When we look to extra-CARICOM agreements like the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the EPA, it is because we have failed to bring these assets together.

Market access is important, but productive assets must be developed, and must be developed for our mutual benefit.

What is even more dangerous is when these extra-regional agreements undermine CARICOM.
The CBI was as much an ideological alliance that used trade preferences to divide CARICOM along Cold War ideological lines.

Now, the EPA divides the ACP and gives Europe the power to make trade rules for CARICOM.
For example, it undermines the two-year CARICOM single market and, as Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana says, fixes CARICOM's trade policy for decades to come with very little flexibility for our own management.

It is ironic that the Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) should have made regional trade negotiations largely redundant and the RNM symbolic.

Jagdeo says that the EPA has altered CARICOM's foreign trade policy by compelling the region to offer the United States and Canada similar trade agreements to the EPA.

It has also locked the Caribbean into giving Europe any preferences that we give to our fellow developing countries like China, India and Brazil.

The members of the 'Little Eight' have sought their own salvation both within and outside of CARICOM.

But they, too, have been at cross-purposes. Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative of Latin America (ALBA) - Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Honduras.

Dominica subsequently joined ALBA. The Big Four have either not signed the MoU (Jamaica and Guyana) or not even signed on to PetroCaribe (Barbados and Trinidad).

Some of the 'Little Eight' countries say they will not sign the EPA in its current form (Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent, and Dominica), joining Guyana on this score, while most of the Big Four (Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados) say they will.


The latest regional scheme has also seen the same cross-purpose. Trinidad's MoU for political unity includes Grenada, Dominica, and St Vincent, but other countries are either taking a wait-and-see approach or have rejected the entreaty to join.

There are three discernible directions in which CARICOM is pulling at the same time. The Golding administration is leading the region down the path of a model of European trade and investment liberalisation that Guyana and others reject.

Trinidad is leading the region towards some appropriate form of political unity that Jamaica and Guyana are aloof to.

Guyana is charting a course of agricultural leadership under the Jagdeo initiative that the rest of the region gives little real support.

The Guyanese and Trinidad initiatives are driven from within CARICOM, while the Jamaican venture is driven by Europe. Furthermore, the first two initiatives are relevant to, and in fact, designed as responses to the global crises of energy, food and climate change.

The Euro-Jamaican venture is exactly what those initiatives are designed to mitigate. Guyana's strong objection is based on the threat to the food security of the region posed by potential European takeover of the Caribbean food market, which will increase the region's food dependency.

Regional agriculture

In 2003, Guyana took the initiative to move CARICOM's Caribbean Agricultural Policy forward, which the Heads of Government of CARICOM endorsed in 2004. Jagdeo is the CARICOM Head of Government with lead responsibility for regional agriculture.

His plan was to allow the region to achieve a reasonable level of food security in normal times and during disasters like hurricanes. The plan was also to raise the profile of sustainable agriculture and rural development in the construction of the CSME.

It was a response to the threat to the region's agriculture, particularly rice, sugar, and bananas, arising from EU/WTO trade reforms.

Finally, it sought to save foreign exchange spent on food imports, now some US$3 billion each year, but which will jump with the recent price increases, while earning foreign exchange from food that we could export. No one quarrelled with any of this.

Jagdeo says that the EPA will allow Europe to flood our food markets further. The EPA also overrides regional integration and CARICOM's authority on trade.

Once the EPA is signed, CARICOM cannot enter into any trade agreement that impacts on the EPA without the approval of Europe. CARICOM could hardly then describe itself as a community of sovereign states, since those states are signing away their external trade sovereignty.

The EPA also divides integration partners into separate and competing trading countries. This leads to further splits in CARICOM's directions. The EPA will undermine the CSME. Guyana will probably stay with the ACP to negotiate a better deal with Europe, while Jamaica and others lock themselves into the EPA.

CARICOM countries are going in different directions and the region needs leadership that can recreate the consensus that has been lost.

Under P.J. Patterson's influence, for instance, the emphasis had been on building CARICOM institutions and deepening integration. Current leaders must search for new consensus on what the priorities should be.

To me, it must be on continuing to build the foundations for a more effective CARICOM capable of addressing the crises of climate change, food dependency, energy dependence, crime, HIV/AIDS, poverty and democracy.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona.

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