CARIFORUM could be unravelling

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday April 11, 2011 – With regional unity within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) already under stress amid recent trade and immigration-related issues, reports are now coming out that the wider Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) bloc is pulling in different directions. 

CARIFORUM, a construct pulled together from CARICOM and the Dominican Republic in 1992 for the purpose of negotiating with the European Union, has long been an unusual alliance, whose time now seems to have come. 

Following the 18th meeting of the CARICOM Council of Ministers in Belize last week, Belizean foreign minister, Wilfred Elrington, told reporters that the Dominican Republic was not comfortable with the current structure of CARIFORUM, and appeared to feel that CARICOM was playing too large a role in decision-making.

“The Dominican Republic doesn’t seem to want the director general to have to report to the Council of Ministers by going through the secretary general of CARICOM. Their recommendation is for the director general to have a direct line to the Council of Ministers,” said Elrington. 

“It’s a thorny issue because protocol has always been for institutions, certainly the CARICOM institutions, to make reports through the secretary general that is the highest post. And from the secretary general it goes to the Council of Ministers or to the heads of government. You just don’t bypass your secretary general,” he said.

This stance by the Spanish-speaking neighbour might be understandable given that the Dominican Republic has an economy that is larger than that of any single CARICOM member, and the equivalent of 64 percent of the size of all of CARICOM combined.

Furthermore, while the EPA’s Regional Preference clause obliges CARIFORUM states to extend to each other the same treatment they extend to the EU, regional leaders have not yet given the green light to the Dominican Republic’s application – first presented in 2009 – to join the Caribbean integration movement.

At the Belize meeting, both Barbados and Jamaica supported the creation of a new head of CARIFORUM in the form of a director general, arguing also for additional directors. 

Emanating from this proposal was the agreement that the director general should be the EPA coordinator. Both proposals included the need for there to be a genuine EPA implementation Unit for CARIFORUM which is located in the CARIFORUM Directorate.

But there appears to be some disagreement as to whether the Caricom secretary general should continue to be the secretary general of CARIFORUM, with the new director general reporting through the secretary general to the leaders.

The meeting agreed that the new CARIFORUM structure would provide for both the EPA Implementation Unit and the traditional programming and development cooperation function with its own dedicated staff. 

It also noted “the preparedness of the Dominican Republic to forego concessions in its favour to have positions in the CARIFORUM Directorate reserved for its nationals once CARIFORUM is restructured to operate more efficiently and transparently”.

It was also agreed that the current position of assistant secretary general of CARIFORUM should be designated as director general and should assume the position of CARIFORUM EPA coordinator, in addition to his/her responsibilities for the CARIFORUM Directorate. This position will be filled by a national of the Dominican Republic up Sep. 16, 2012.

The Council meeting also agreed that the status quo would remain regarding the reporting of the new director general of CARIFORUM to the secretary general. (Article written with contribution from IPS)

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