Approach to regional integration needs review

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada, Monday February 8, 2011 – A re-appraisal of the approach to the integration process is critical in the face of the “unacceptable progress” in implementation of the decisions, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Chairman Tillman Thomas has told his regional counterparts.

The Grenadian Prime Minister threw out the challenge at the 22nd Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, against the background of what he referred to as the “skepticism” of the Community’s populace, and the significant economic challenges that Member States were currently facing. 

“I am of the view that this scenario begs for a fundamental reappraisal of our approach, our management and our commitment toward the integration process. I submit that failure to engage in such an exercise will be detrimental and unresponsive to our people’s wishes and the gravity of the current environmental dictates,” Prime Minister Thomas said. 

The Chairman referred to the vulnerabilities of the CARICOM Member States, in particular their susceptibility to natural disasters, and openness and intricate link to the economies of main trading partners and their economic fortunes. He told the meeting that Member States now find themselves grappling with the impact and consequences of crises they did not create. 

“And, as if that is not enough, we are now confronting rising fuel and food prices once again,” he added. 

In the face of all this, Prime Minister Thomas said, the Caribbean populace was “restless and concerned” with many holding the view that the Region appeared to be languishing in a state of “implementation impotence in our slow march towards the CSME.” 

“Others suggest that our preoccupation with survival issues has led to a neglect of integration matters. Yet, some are also of the view that our actions sometimes contradict our public rhetoric. This imagery is quite vivid when one measures our unacceptable progress against the agreed work programme for the advancement of the integration process in July 1989 at this location,” he said in reference to the Grand Anse Declaration and Work Programme for the Advancement of the Integration Movement that put forward the advancement of the regional integration process through the creation of a Single Market and Economy. 

He added that the region must remain united in its conviction and commitment that the regional integration movement remained a “primary construct” and vehicle in the process of transformation and modernization. 

Meantime, CARICOM’s immediate past chairman, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding, insisted there was a need to address the persistent concern that the regional grouping is not working.

“It was almost a generation ago that the West Indian Commission provided a clinical assessment of our deficiencies. Ten years later, Professor Norman Girvan highlighted what he called our implementation deficit. The people of the Caribbean – our constituents, the people who ultimately matter – continuously lament the benefit-deficit. That concern will not be dispelled by sentimental pleadings and history-based rationalizations. They want to see results, results that they can feel, count and enjoy,” he told the meeting. 

“We cannot escape addressing the issue of governance for it is a major cause of our implementation deficit – the Caribbean people’s benefit deficit. Various mechanisms have been proposed; none has found unanimous acceptance. If we are hoping to find the perfect solution, we are setting up our own disappointment for there is no perfect solution. The voices of the skeptics have never been stilled. They may be subdued from time to time but they are ever present. Our response must not be to dismiss them or denounce their reasoning but to remove the cause of their skepticism,” he added. 

Prime Minister Golding said that has always been the burden of the CARICOM movement and remains a challenge for the movement. 

Leaders recommit to integration movement

At the end of the meeting, the leaders issued a communiqué in which they reaffirmed their commitment to the regional endeavour and agreed that the objective of the regional agenda should be focused on improving the lives of the people of the Caribbean Community.

“In noting that there appeared to be a loss in the momentum with regard to the regional integration agenda, Heads of Government agreed there was a need to reassess approaches with a view to determining modalities that would re-energise the regional integration endeavour, in accordance with their vision,” the statement said.

Heads of Government recognised that their discussions were taking place against the backdrop of the rapidly changing international environment, including the on-going global financial and economic crisis which has had a negative impact on the economies of the region.

They fully recognized that the region itself was facing many serious challenges to its survival. They were however convinced that as a community of states committed to the concept of a Region moving together, these challenges could be overcome.

It was against this background that, despite their concern at the slow pace of the regional integration movement, Heads of Government urged that the Community should not allow itself to be discouraged by the often expressed views that CARICOM was in crisis. They urged instead, that the region be viewed as being at the crossroads of opportunity.

“Heads of Government believed that CARICOM’s leadership, at all levels, should acknowledge the protracted challenges and the urgency of arresting the associated perception of decline. The most urgent need was not for broad new decision-making; it was for implementing decisions already made and embodied in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and living by the spirit of unity and collective action that inspired the Grand Anse Declaration which preceded it,” they said in the communiqué.

It is within that context that the regional heads accepted the invitation of Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo for a special two-day retreat in that country to solely discuss the way forward for CARICOM, before their next annual summit in St. Kitts and Nevis in July 2011.

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