November 16, 2008

Carribean Unity

Caribbean unity: An idea whose time has come, again
published: Sunday November 16, 2008
Jamaica Gleaner

The momentum of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) along with the Manning Initiative of recent months towards greater Caribbean unity forces us to consider again whether Caribbean unity is an idea whose time has come, again, with a chance to grasp it this time.

But the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe even more recently has caused us to ask the opposite, that being, whether Caribbean unity is an idea whose time has gone. A still more recent event, of two weeks ago, forces us to answer that question.

If we expect Barack Obama to help us, we must know what kind of Caribbean we want and how we are helping ourselves. We must know whether we stand together or only pose for pictures together. We must be able to tell Obama if we stand with the United States or Europe on trade issues at the World Trade Organisation in pursuit of a vision of the Americas. We must be able to say if we stand with or apart from the African and Pacific countries as members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, especially since Obama will almost certainly establish a bridge with Africa.

OECS momentum

This is the 50th anniversary of the start of that bold experiment, the Federation of the West Indies, the high point of Caribbean political unity. When Alexander Bustamante took Jamaica out of it, the other countries took the sensible view that those among them could still form whatever union they wished. Interest was particularly strong among the 'Little Eight'. By 1966, they had established the West Indies Associated States Council of Ministers and by 1968, the Eastern Caribbean Common Market. By 1981, they had established the Orgainsation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). They subscribed to a common currency, central bank, supreme court, political authority of heads of governments, telecommunications authority and civil aviation authority.

They launched a new momentum in 2001. A new draft treaty seeks to create an economic union with the "constitutional, political and economic changes that would be necessary" for this and to meet the challenges of globalisation. The OECS is on the verge of becoming a federal-type political union where the political authority of heads of governments will have the competence to pass legislation that would become law in the member countries.

The federal authority will have competence to decide on matters of the common market and customs union, monetary policy, trade policy, maritime jurisdiction, civil aviation, commercial policy, environmental policy and immigration policy. The heads of government will be supported by a council of ministers and an assembly of parliamentarians elected in the member territories.
The Manning Initiative of August 2008 represents Trinidad's interest in forming a political union with Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and any other country that is interested. There was an earlier 'Manning initiative' of 1992, which sought to join Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana in a political union. Trinidad's petro-power combined with fears that CARICOM might not achieve its single market and economy by a date already postponed to 2015 might be the key new motivators.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, himself a key supporter of West Indian political unity, said two things at a lecture at the University of the West Indies on November 3. Should Trinidad join the OECS, it would only be a matter of time before Barbados and Guyana do so. Second, CARICOM's single market and economy, if it should come into being at all, will require the political authority similar to that which the OECS has. Otherwise, the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) will not work.

Movement for federation

The question of course now becomes, where would all of this leave Jamaica? The Jamaica Labour Party has been opposed to any political union or region building say through the Caribbean Court of Justice and the single economy. The People's National Party (PNP), on the other hand, initially led the movement for federation and remains committed to everything but political union. Yet, globalisation and the special crises of food, energy, crime and climate change have changed everything and Jamaica's inability to stand alone economically suggests that the party must rethink this position. The PNP's progressive agenda must take up, study and canvass the country on the kind of rea-listic political engagement we can have with the rest of the Caribbean.

If the OECS movement is an idea of Caribbean unity whose time has come, then signs suggest that the CARICOM movement is an idea of Caribbean unity whose time might have gone. CARICOM has failed to establish an authority that can implement heads of govern-ment decisions though a CARICOM commission was recommended as long ago as 1992. The single market and economy has been postponed to 2015. But the CSME will falter without the political authority rejected in 1962 and 1992 to exercise competence in common areas across the common territories to make the CSME effective. Furthermore, just in October, CARICOM leaders, led by Jamaica, signed away CARI-COM's economic authority when they signed the EPA which gives Europe the final word on any matter on which CARICOM trade conflicts with the agreement.

CARICOM has opened doors to Europe that it has not opened to the United States. Take the ethanol industry, for example. Jamaica's new ethanol industry has a very important market in the US. The market in the US is guaranteed under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA). The CBERA comes up for renewal in 2010. America's position might be that since we have given Europe access to our markets and accepted that Europe should remove preferences for our exports then it should have these privileges as well. We could therefore lose our CBERA benefits and a minimum ethanol market.

Brazil's investment in our sugar factories and the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica was promising because its ethanol production in Jamaica could get access to the US market under the CBERA and make up the quota that we cannot fill at the moment. But, if the US terminates the CBERA for a free-trade agreement with Jamaica, as some fear it will, then Jamaica would be of no advantage to Brazil, and Brazil will lose interest in the sugar cane industry, if it has not begun to do so already. Brazil, remember, cannot export ethanol to the US without facing high tariffs because of US protectionism. Even if the US is sympathetic to Jamaica, it would be conceding its market to Brazil through the back door of the CBERA and its powerful ethanol producers would be angry. Obama has already said he stood for energy independence, which means supporting local ethanol producers against competitors like Brazil.


Jamaica should tie its fortunes to energy giants like Brazil, Venezuela and Trinidad. But, they are moving towards closer integration, while Jamaica is moving towards greater disintegration. Caribbean unity is a strategy for survival by making alliances with each other and with states that are going to be important in the new global order that is taking shape. If we have been on the wrong side of history we need to get on the right side of the future.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, University of the West Indies, Mona. Email: or

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