July 15, 2009

Swim together or sink separately

Caricom Summit: Swim together or sink separately
Source: Trinidad and Tobago Express

IT was billed as Caricom's make or break summit. One comment also described it as another attempt by the region's political leaders to address "an ever increasing list of unresolved issues".

When he spoke at the opening ceremony at which he was conferred with the region's highest award, the former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson also talked in dark tones, weighing the prospects for the region's survival against the possibility that the regional integration project was foundering.

Swimming together or sinking separately was another one of the end-game analogies being used to convey the impression of a movement approaching the rock of disintegration.

With an article appearing in the online Caribworld news, David Jessop concluded by suggesting that "if the Georgetown Summit, Caricom's 30th regular meeting of Heads of Government, failed to result in "decisions that are implemented, it will be hard to avoid the sad conclusion that the age of pan-Caribbean regional integration is passing".

Armed with the communiqué issued at the end of the Georgetown Summit on the morning of July 5, Mr Jessop and others are in a position now to assess the extent to which the decisions taken there were sufficiently implementation friendly to avoid the catastrophe they envisage.

Many of those decisions, frankly, leave much to be desired on some of the key issues facing the countries involved in the "Caricom project," the term now adopted as flavour of the month.

With expectations aplenty among many of the region's well wishers along with the dependants of its best deliberations, on the issue of "Agriculture and food security", the leaders "reaffirmed" the following.

"Their commitment to providing financial and other support measures for agriculture. They underscored the importance of agriculture for food and nutrition security and for the development of our economies." They issued a separate declaration on the matter as well, but which itself requires further, detailed examination..

On Tourism, the lifeblood activity for many of the economies in the region, this is what they said. "Heads of Government also considered the impact of the global economic and financial crisis on the tourism sector and agreed that implementation of the Regional Marketing Programme was urgent."

They also agreed to pursue with the government of the United States the establishment of more pre-clearance facilities in the Caribbean. And they resolved to pursue with the government of the UK the proposed Air Passenger Duty, and matters related thereto.

Many of the region's peoples and organisations hanging on for every word that would have come from the meeting on these issues could well be left wanting more.

After hearing also a report on an audit of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, with all that is critical in this for the movement's very survival, the leaders agreed to hold convocation with all the stakeholders, to give full consideration of that report. This was the first of three short statements on this item.

But with his own back against the Georgetown summit's wall over his government's new immigration policy, it was the Prime Minister of Barbados who came out firmly against those who would see only gloom over the Caricom cloud.

And against those who remain merely cynical or apprehensive about the future. He saw a past full of achievements, from which a prosperous future should easily be imagined.

From where he stood, he told reporters at a news conference on July 1, "You have to understand your past in order to sensibly shape your future. You have to understand the historic context of the long and arduous journey, started by that great generation of West Indian leaders, which took us from colonialism, through the Federal experiment, to Carifta". And beyond.

"You have to measure the way forward by acknowledging the way already travelled," he said, declaring that it was easy for stakeholders, in times of crisis, to become impatient at what they see as the slow pace of the integration project, and to declare it dead on arrival.

When one looked dispassionately at what has happened in the region over the last four decades since independence began in the 1960's David Thompson said the region confronted formidable odds.

It was difficult, in those circumstances, he said, "to understand the pessimism and the talk of failure".

He had traced that journey over some 40 years, surveying both the state of the world and of the region, stopping at points along the way, in 1969, and 1989, to emphasise his focus.

Twenty years ago for instance, he reminded those who would listen, the world was in turmoil and the region was feeling the impact of that. He quoted Michael Manley at the Grand Anse summit that "crisis, stagnation and economic recession had been the permanent bedfellows of Caricom since its inception. This, the late former Jamaican Prime Minster had said, produced a "long period of near-retreat from strategic purpose".

But coming out of the Grand Anse summit was the decision to go for a revision of the community establishing Treaty of Chaguaramas, therein the call for the establishment of the CSME and the setting up of the West Indian Commission.

Over this period also, Thompson listed some of the achievements, many so taken

from granted they would not be heralded, their impact blunted by their very fit with regional expectations.

In 2009, he said, the region was once again faced with global economic convulsions of unprecedented proportions. Not so daunting, however, as to cause any revision of his conviction "that regional integration is the last best hope for the Caribbean".

He worried, nevertheless, about "fragmenting into unworkable reconfigurations of the regional project, saying concentration should be on "strengthening the core, not on proliferating the periphery".

Railing a current clamour for instant results, notwithstanding inherent complexities or difficulties in the external environment, he cautioned against pessimism over the CSME project.

"All the provisions on the right of establishment, and the free movement of goods, services, capital and skilled persons are being implemented," he said pointing to the unacknowledged "realities".

Conceding that the CSME timetable "may have been delayed," recent developments in the region have shown the true extent of the financial interdependence that already exists among us," he urged. They have given new urgency to the policy co-ordination efforts of the region's regulators and Ministers of Finance.

The Regional Negotiating Machinery for him represents "a unique institution in the developing world", one that is "highly regarded internationally (and) had helped us to conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe and is preparing the groundwork for the start of talks with Canada".

In the area of functional co-operation, Thompson remains convinced, "Caricom's significant achievements have gone almost unheralded".

Such institutions as the UWI and the Caribbean Examinations Council are now so much a part of the region's fabric of everyday life, "we do not register them as components of the integration process".

There exist harmonised systems in education, health, on climate change, disaster preparedness and response, standards and quality, competition, crime and security. And perhaps most significant of all, he said, has been "the coming into being of the Caribbean Court of Justice".

Within all of this, for him the issue of free movement was simply one which has generated perhaps "the greatest heat but least light", one that is fundamental but around which "much confusion and misunderstanding persists"

No comments: