That Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose to characterise Caricom's talks with US Vice-President Joe Biden as "brutal" is probably indicative of more than a measure of resistance on the part of the US vice-president of the many demands made for American assistance and antagonistic follow-through by regional leaders.
As Vice-President Biden indicated, "island nations face special difficulties." However, he noted that under the CBI, 85 per cent of the exports of Caricom go into the US without tariffs. Further, under the new Trade and Investment Framework Agreement there will be US assistance to seed growth and development in the economies to be covered by this follow-up to the three-decades-old Caribbean Basin Initiative.
However, Caricom leaders should not miss Mr Biden's point that they have to focus on the areas in which Washington would be willing to assist. The vice-president listed education, investment and co-operative efforts to bring down the cost of energy to member states of Caricom.The regional leadership must come to an operational understanding of a world which has dramatically changed from the 1980s. Today globalisation and free trade are the driving forces of international relations.
In such a world, the self-interest of nation states continues to be central. The lesson to Caricom must therefore be that the US, like other traditionally friendly states, must be given reasons to assist small states.Along its third border with the Caribbean and Latin America, security issues dealing with crime, money-laundering and the trade in arms and drugs remain the most significant concerns of the US.
Caricom must work with the US to fashion incisive measures to counter the illicit trade and the threats posed to US territory if the region is to receive additional assistance from Washington.The era of limitless trade preferences has ended. What Caricom needs is to create a new paradigm for the US to work co-operatively with the region.
Vice-President Biden opened up the possibility of his government seeking to establish policy measures whereby the Caribbean business diaspora in the US could find opportunities to invest in the Caribbean.Likewise, although a little embarrassing, Mr Biden pointed to developing cost-saving energy for Caricom countries which pay large sums for their energy. One possibility here is for US firms to provide the technological base for solar and wind energy which will be sustainable and at very low costs.
Of great significance is the alert by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar that Caricom will once again be seeking a summit with President Obama. The preparations for such a summit must start now.A creative set of proposals which goes beyond simply begging for more assistance from a rich and friendly nation must be developed. Caricom governments have to stop being mendicants holding out their begging bowl to the United States and other large industrial partners.
Caricom governments must remember too that before he can make contributions to regional growth and development, President Obama must persuade his own population that the US government is not simply giving handouts to impoverished nations.Maybe the language will change, if and when there is a summit at the level of the US president, from being "brutal" to one in which there is common ground for truly co-operative ventures between the US and Caricom.