Gonsalves urges CARICOM to prepare for regional integration changes

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Friday August 31, 2012 – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) must deal urgently with the issue of the “altered and altering” conditions of regional integration.

That’s the word from Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves who said that he has already written to the CARICOM secretary general, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, on the issue and they have had partial discussions.

Dr Gonsalves was speaking at the closing session of the “50/50: Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty” conference, hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.

The Vincentian leader, who also chairs the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), said it was time for CARICOM to discuss the issues dispassionately “and prepare ourselves for the altered and altering conditions of the regional integration movement”.

“While we are going to have CARICOM, we are going to have poles of integration, which are going to be distinct with the framework of CARICOM: Not only as circles of integration outside of CARICOM, but within CARICOM you are going to have circles of integration, and CARICOM has to come to terms with the circles of integration, in their own interest,” Gonsalves warned.

The Vincentian leader pointed out that in the northern Caribbean, countries which have signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) — Jamaica, Haiti and The Bahamas — have been drawn into a trading arrangement with the Dominican Republic, which is not a member of CARICOM.

“When the liberalisation process accelerates further, Cuba will become part of that northern axis, and Puerto Rico will get a special dispensation. Jamaica will still be within CARICOM with everything which we have, but because of the closeness in this northern pole and the ease of transportation, you are going to have a different kind of relationship,” he said.

He went on to note that while CARICOM was “afraid” of discussing Venezuela President Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), a counter to the US-led idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), three CARICOM countries – Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and his own St Vincent and the Grenadines – had already joined ALBA, while St Lucia and Suriname are contemplating joining.

He also indicated that the OECS has become a tighter unit, with the signing of the Treaty of Basseterre establishing its own economic union in January 2011 with new structures of governance including a legislative assembly.

The OECS chairman indicated that Trinidad and Tobago will eventually have to make up its mind as to whether or not it is going to become a part of this structure and what its relationship is going to be, and Barbados will likely seek “a piece of the action”.

Gonsalves added that a new configuration has also been taking place within the OECS, with Guadeloupe and Martinique getting support from France to become associate states, and Curacao and Aruba also showing interest.

“So that, before our very eyes, the integration movement is being altered; not just because of what is happening here in the region, but because of what is taking place outside the region as well, and the pressures which are forming,” he stated. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)