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Another disappointing Caricom summit
Those unfamiliar with the capacity of Caricom leaders at their summits for rhetoric could have been deceived by the flourishes at the opening of last week’s Heads of Government Summit in St Lucia. “I believe we must take time to share our hopes, dreams and aspirations for our beloved though enigmatic region. We must start again by re-establishing the ‘political chemistry’ that bound us together,” was how new chairman of Caricom, St Lucia’s Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, greeted his fellow leaders.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, aware that there have always been questions about that country’s commitment to regional integration, went out of her way to seek to reassure the cynics: “I want to underscore Jamaica’s commitment to regionalism as a core principle of our foreign policy and external trade policy.”
She then cleverly issued a challenge to her colleagues: “What can we do to chart a course to make things better for our people? It is up to us to put the political excitement, meaning and fervour back into Caricom.” The leaders must be aware that fast-paced changes in how states interact with each other have had an impact on regionalism. So too should they be conscious that the failure of the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the deep difficulties being experienced by the European Union puts into question the survivability of the much smaller Caricom.
The reality confronting regional leaders is that while they made speeches, tinkered and let opportunities and deadlines for closer integration slip, the nature of international trade and the way the international economy functions have changed, without their taking advantage of the old opportunities. But even more disappointing than the meaningless rhetorical flourishes are the statements of intention made by the leaders in their final communique.
To achieve movement in the core element of Caricom, the Single Market and Economy—the initiative to combine the resources of the region to produce goods and services to export to third countries, and which is at least ten years behind schedule—Caricom leaders could do no more than restate old, lifeless commitments.
They “recommitted” to ensuring the achievement of the original objectives of the CSME, including free movement of skilled community nationals, access to the region’s resources and creating the environment for competitive production. At the lower level of economic integration, the Single Market, the leaders said even less: “Heads agreed on specific elements of the work programme and timetable for implementation in the short to medium term.”
No one remains any wiser as to what these “elements” are and when they are to be implemented. Back in the 1970s there was much hope for bringing together the physical resources of countries such as Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname, together with this country’s energy, to produce semi-finished and finished goods for exports.
But 35 years later the regional leaders could only report: “Heads of Government received an update from the President of Suriname regarding the establishment of joint economic ventures. The President indicated that there had been discussions with the Governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana as well as with regional and international institutions, in an effort to move the venture forward.”
More than 20 years ago, Sir Shridath Ramphal and a handful of the best minds of the region surveyed the operations of Caricom and concluded that the “Time for Action” had passed. The leaders are aware that a recent review of the integration movement has concluded that if something is not done soon to revitalise and give new direction to the 40-year union, it will soon die a natural death.
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