JIS News

I am extremely privileged and honoured to be afforded the opportunity to address the topic “CARICOM Current Status and Future Prospects”. CARICOM today is at an important cross-road in its evolution over the past thirty-three years. On January 6, 2006 six member states signed a declaration to inaugurate the Single Market. This represents the culmination of a journey towards Caribbean integration which has been long and arduous and has suffered many set backs along the way.
As in earlier phases of this development there were differing views about the prospects of this phase achieving its objectives. Prime Minister Arthur of Barbados observed that:
“If we were to succeed, as we must, in making the fifteen (15) nations of CARICOM one Single Market and Economy, the stark reality is that such a regional economy would still be the smallest and most vulnerable block in a globalised world. Ours is therefore the Region in today’s world where integration is most sorely needed as the indispensable foundation on which to rest national and regional endeavours in pursuit of equitable and sustainable development.”
He averted to the necessity to ensure that the Single Market does not become a permanent “coalition of un-equals” and emphasised the special urgency that should be attached to the enterprise to create the Single Market.
The OECS sub group delayed signing the declaration until the 30th of June 2006. Speaking on their behalf Prime Minister Gonsalves argued that the delay was consistent with the caution they had exercised throughout the course of the evolution from CARIFTA to CARICOM “until they were satisfied that the new arrangement would cater to their special concerns and vulnerabilities as micro states.”
Despite these reservations Caribbean integration has developed an ideological underpinning driven by common sense and the logic of history encapsulated in the late President Burnham’s famous dictum “INTEGRATE OR PERISH”.
Today, we as advocates of Caribbean integration must assume the urgent responsibility to focus on the challenges currently faced by the region and on the policy responses which are needed to fashion the future to ensure that CARICOM realises its full potential and becomes an effective participant in the international community.
In charting that future it is appropriate to identify CARICOM’s potential to become one of the most prosperous regions in the world based on the exploitation of its significant resource endowment.
The Region disposes of a wide range of resources such as petroleum, natural gas, bauxite, gold, diamonds, agriculture and forestry as well as a sophisticated tourism infrastructure and significant human resources. What is needed is the commitment to escape the psychological prison of a sense of separateness which has been fostered by history and geographical circumstance. Caribbean governments have in the past taken bold and far-reaching steps to achieve the goal of integration.
Despite some gains, there is a noticeable failure to achieve the timetable and the objectives because of the slow pace to implement the decisions, thereby negating the value of the bold vision to which the region had committed itself.
The signing of the Single Market declaration is a case in point. It was expected to provide the impetus creating a single economic space to ensure the free movement of goods, services, labour and coordination of important economic and external policies. But even before the agreement could be implemented several skeptics have already pronounced that the measure would be unable to achieve its objectives without significant changes and additions to the regional, institutional and governance architecture.
Kari Levitt, Lloyd Best and Clive Thomas are of the view that the Single Market could not be effective without a significant transfer of sovereignty. As Lloyd Best puts it: “. for many years various spokesmen for CARICOM have been offering the CSME in its various guises as the solution to the Region’s economic viability and an essential precondition to the success of integration. It seemed to us that in 2005 we had arrived at a critical moment. We had either to launch the programme of implementation or concede that the measures we have taken over the years were frightfully flawed. We were aware that the great majority of professionals in the region had been adopting an almost universal skeptical stance. Few could say where the policies of the last five decades had been leading.”
He goes on to point out that CARICOM seemed not to have escaped reliance on ideas borrowed from various sources and “comprising largely of a set of ad hoc utopian programmes which neither singly nor together achieve insight, cogency, internal consistency or just point.” The Region, it is felt, lacked a galvanising vision and many initiatives lacked creative spark. Consequently, the Region needed a fresh start and an entirely new approach to regional integration.
Professor Clive Thomas was disenchanted with the current state of CARICOM as it has lost its credentials as a radical project. CARICOM has been derailed and has been transformed “into a complicit mechanism with which to facilitate the integration of the region into the global economy- not challenge it.”
Havelock Brewster has adopted a more nuanced perspective but raises the question of whether the CSME can become a reality without political union.
Such pessimistic appraisals of the prospects of CARICOM have not deterred the optimism of those who continue to view regionalism as the only available option to the region’s survival. Prime Minister Arthur argues against critics who make an industry of complaining and against the false pragmatism that treat economics and politics as compartmentalised.
At the heart of the debate is the issue of the exercise of sovereignty. Advocates of the concept of the exercise of collective sovereignty stress that the objectives of CARICOM and the Single Market can be achieved through the creation of institutions dedicated to the implementation of the objectives of the CARICOM arrangement as contained in the revised treaty. It is argued that those who fail to see merit in the current arrangements focus too much on trade expansion possibilities and in the process neglect the fundamental issue of the production aspect of the integration process.
Trade is no doubt and important aspect of the integration process and appropriate attention should be paid to the development of intra regional trade, yet given our conspicuously high export ratios there is need to protect vigorously CARICOM’s trading interest in the context of the trade negotiations carried out in respect of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, the proposed Economic Partnership Agreements in the context of the EU/ACP negotiations and most important within the World Trade Organisation.
CARICOM countries must pay particular attention to the concepts of trade relations which suggest that the region has a weak case for special and differential treatment as a result of small size, comparatively low level of development and high levels of vulnerability.
The Region is even being told that preferences that have been the foundation of our current economic structure have operated to the region’s detriment by preventing appropriate adjustments in order to become competitive. Such arguments ignore both the historical and current practices in many countries in North America and Europe in shielding aspects of their economy from open competition and by subsidizing strategic aspects of their economy such as the provision of agricultural subsidies.
The protection of our interests in the trade negotiations requires that the region speak with one voice in international trade fora. It is time for the region to strengthen the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery in order to enable it to function as a genuine regional instrument for the conduct of external trade negotiations. CARICOM can no longer afford to dissipate its energy and resources by insisting on very small national representation instead there is need for a formula to vest that authority in the CRNM as an expression of the exercise of collective sovereignity.
In charting the directions for future focus, urgent attention must now be placed on the need to promote an accelerated pace of development and to ensure the well being of the population by mobilising the resources and capabilities of the region in an integrated framework. In this connection renewed interest has been expressed in production integration as an important strategy for optimising development possibilities through the pooling of its resources. Such a strategy holds out optimistic possibilities for significantly altering the pattern of intra regional trade. As Demas and McIntyre noted “one cannot repeat too often the well-known proposition that the main benefits from integration are derived not so much from freeing of trade as from the development of complementary structures of production and demand.”
This proposition may be illustrated by reference to the proposed aluminium smelter to be built in Trinidad and Tobago based on the utilization of Trinidad and Tobago petroleum/ natural gas and bauxite from Jamaica and Guyana. If bauxite were to be exported from Jamaica and Guyana to Trinidad and Tobago which does not happen at the present time, it would result in a significant expansion of intra regional trade. Similarly if aluminium were to be exported from Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica and Guyana as inputs for down stream manufacturing of aluminium products, it would result in further expansion of intra regional trade. As Professor Benn has argued “to these benefits must be added significantly increased returns that will accrue to the participants in the aluminium smelter as a result of the localisation of value added on the assumption that the bauxite supplied by Jamaica and Guyana would be provided on the basis of equity participation in the venture.”
In an effort to advance progress in this important area, CARICOM Heads of Government at the thirtieth anniversary conference held in Montego Bay called for a group of experts to identify suitable opportunities for production integration and the policy and institutional arrangements necessary to achieve this objective. In response to this decision, the University of the West Indies, Mona convened a high level seminar entitled “Production Integration: From Theory to Action” in January 2006. The seminar brought together representatives from governments, the private sector, the academic community and regional institutions to exchange views on this subject and to make specific recommendations designed to translate theory into action in this area of integration policy. The recommendations of this seminar will shortly be available in a published volume.
A central theme in the deliberations about CARICOM’s future has been the matter of the kind of system of regional governance that would be appropriate for achieving and sustaining the continued advance of CARICOM. CARICOM has been defined in the past as “a community of sovereign states.” Increasingly it is being acknowledged that such a definition represents too narrow a conception of CARICOM and has tended to emphasise the individual exercise of sovereignty. For this reason Prime Minister Patterson proposed in 2003 that the community be redefined as a “community of states and territories, exercising sovereignty individually and collectively.”
This represents a much more flexible appreciation of the nature of the community and is closer to the current reality. In fact sovereignty in the community is exercised at different levels. Member states act individually as they continue to exercise ultimate authority on the implementation of decisions and on the range of issues put on the regional agenda for decision making. But sovereignty is exercised collectively by ministerial meetings when they agree to adopt a common stance in various economic negotiations. There are even examples where member states have ceded sovereignty in selected policy areas. The Caribbean Court of Justice is perhaps the best example of this point.
Dissatisfaction with the pace of the implementation of decisions has resulted in new governance mechanisms to strengthen the institutional structure of the Community. In this connection, proposals for the establishment of a CARICOM Commission, a system of automaticity of financing for the Secretariat and related institutions and the restructuring of the assembly of Caribbean community Parliamentarians will receive consideration at the next Heads of Government meeting in July.
While we must continue to devote our energies to improve the effectiveness of our community to serve the interests of the people of our region, we cannot remain in a diplomatic cocoon, defined by the geographical limits of our region. We must therefore strengthen the process of Caribbean integration not only to accelerate the pace of our development on a collective basis, but also to create a platform in order to enable us to play a larger role in the international community and thus to be in a better position to defend our interests. For this reason, we must pursue a policy of ‘concentric diplomacy’, based on different levels of engagement involving the wider Latin American region, the hemisphere system and ultimately, the international community as a whole.
In the case of Latin America, important changes have taken place in several countries in the wake of a series of recent elections. We will need to relate to these changes at the level of the individual countries while at the same time seeking to promote increased trade and economic links with other integration arrangements, such as the Andean Group, but notably with MERCOSUR, which has expressed an interest in promoting closer links with CARICOM. In this regard, we must also support Guyana as the Chairman of the Rio Group for 2006 which is a role that it is carrying out on behalf of the Caribbean Community. Similarly, we must continue to seek to play a balancing, if not leadership role in hemispheric relations.
As was demonstrated in the election last year of the current Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), the votes cast by CARICOM member states exercised a decisive influence on the outcome of the election.
In the wider international arena, we will also need to continue to strengthen our links between the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. Some have, of course, questioned the continued relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement, given the end of the Cold War. Yet the same critics do not question the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which also continues to function despite the end of the Cold War which also provided the rationale for its establishment.
Most important however, is the need for us to continue to strengthen the Group of 77 (which now comprises one hundred and thirty-two countries plus China). Jamaica was privileged to serve as the Chairman of the group in 2005. I believe that in this capacity we were able to promote a number of initiatives aimed at advancing the interests of the Group in several important areas. We must all support South Africa, which has assumed leadership of the Group for 2006. The Group of 77 remains an important investment for promoting the cause of the developing countries and therefore needs our continuing support.
Small nations such as those in the Caribbean not only need to work together in the context of a concerted effort to promote closer cooperation among themselves but also need the support of international organizations to validate their sovereignty and protect their interests, particularly in the climate of an aggressive unilateralism pursued by some members of the international community. For such countries, the United Nations has been the major forum for the exercise of their diplomatic influence in the international system. We must therefore follow closely the efforts aimed at reforming the Organisation, insisting in the process that it should be further strengthened and made increasingly more democratic, instead of being weakened, as seems to be the objective of some member states.
Let me also say that, given the development challenges we face as developing countries, we will need to continue to emphasise the point that the focus on development should be a central feature of the work of the United Nations. However, we must guard against a tendency promoted by some developed countries to shift the focus of the organization away from the structural aspects of development and to emphasise instead more limited themes and goals. While targets identified in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are important, it should be noted that they are located mainly within a social development universe and therefore do not encompass the totality of the development effort. We must therefore build upon the Millennium Development Goals by advocating a continued commitment of the United Nations to the principles of fair trade, effective governance, support for technological development and, of course, economic and social justice, as part of a holistic development equation.
Clearly, CARICOM countries and indeed the developing countries as a whole, are required to function within an international system that has undergone a number of profound changes in recent years. At the political level, the assertion by the United States of an increasingly unilateral approach to international relations, supported by a doctrine of pre-emption, has generated increased tensions in the international system. This has in turn led to the formation of a number of countervailing alliances, both among the traditional European allies of the US and among the developing countries. For example, despite being allies within NATO, Europe has sought to develop its economic capacity and diplomatic influence as a counterweight to US power. Similarly, the developing countries have sought to strengthen their solidarity within the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 as diplomatic bulwarks in support of multilateralism.
On the horizon, of course, is the emergence of China as a new superpower which promises during the course of the present century, to challenge US global dominance. It is estimated that China will surpass the GDP of Japan by 2019 and that of the European Union by 2039. Clearly this development will have major geopolitical as well as economic implications, particularly since China has become a major competitor with the US in the global quest for energy resources.
Given this reality, the Caribbean will need to examine the implications of the expanding economic role of China, and also India, and the opportunities it could offer for developing non-traditional trading patterns. There are issues which will need to be addressed with a sense of increased urgency in the changing geopolitical architecture of contemporary international relations.
In conclusion, we stand today at the crossroads of history, confronting the multifaceted challenges presented by a rapidly changing geostrategic environment and the inexorable march of the twin forces of globalization and economic liberalization, which as currently promoted, threaten to subordinate our interests. CARICOM therefore represents an indispensable foundation for pursuing the interests of the region in an increasingly hostile and uncompromising international environment. I am confident that our region will respond with the vision and wisdom necessary to chart our historic destiny to work collectively to secure the freedom, independence and dignity of our collective Community.