2011: Time to make up your mind

By Sir Ronald Sanders

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Friday December 31, 2010 – At the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, I wrote with a profound sense of disappointment that it was a “lost decade” for the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).  We had failed miserably to complete the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and we had equally failed to build collectively the capacity that all CARICOM countries desperately require not only to bargain effectively in the international community but also to implement the things for which they have bargained.  The first year of the new decade was even worse, and 2011 portends greater grief unless CARICOM governments make up their minds about real and effective integration.

The time for tinkering at the edges of integration has run out.  CARICOM states must now either resolve to proceed with integration, and by so doing maintain some autonomy over their affairs, and crucially a Caribbean culture and identity, or they can flirt with such short term opportunities that they might derive individually from external governments that find it convenient in their own interest to dally with a few states separately.  The latter is not a sustainable development option, and is wholly reliant on the designs of the donor, not the bargaining strength of individual CARICOM states.

Failure to strengthen CARICOM has not only weakened our already weak states, it has lost us respect in the international community.  And, this is true of every aid agency and every international and multilateral financial and trade institution including the Canadian International Development Agency,  the European Commission and the European Development Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

What they see from their perspective is a region that fails to carry out its own agenda – a region that pays lip service to regionalism.  The things that are obvious to them are blatant: failure to complete the CSME; discrimination by CARICOM states against themselves as they try to block market access to each other for goods and services while they are happy to give better access to others; a marked reluctance to apply for readily available money for regional projects – governments are interested in national projects only; and the comedy that has been made of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with Trinidad and Tobago declining to participate in a Court whose headquarters is located in its Capital as a direct consequence of its insistence that it should be there; and, more recently, the heavy hint from Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, that Jamaica might opt for its own final Court of Appeal, notwithstanding that it has an eminent jurist on the Court, and the opportunity for others.

The recent Golding heavy hint is strangely out of synchronisation with the Jamaican government’s measurable attitude to the institutions of the Caribbean Community where Jamaicans now prevail and will be even more dominant by April 2011. 

Jamaicans now head four principal regional institutions:   the Caribbean Development Fund, the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Caribbean Centre on Money and Finance, and the Office of the Trade Negotiations (OTN) of CARICOM.  By April, a Jamaican will also head the Caribbean Development Bank putting five Jamaicans at the headship of these regional organisations, and another Jamaican will most likely move up from the number 3 position in the OTN to number 2.  In addition, of course, Jamaica has a jurist on the CCJ itself. No other CARICOM country can boast of heading so many regional bodies.

These Jamaicans are all highly capable people working in the service of not only Jamaica but all of CARICOM, and accepted by all of CARICOM to look after CARICOM’s interest.

What then is the problem with the CCJ?  If CARICOM can show such confidence in Jamaicans, what is missing here?  

The CCJ shambles has added to the level of frustration and – now increasingly – disrespect for CARICOM in the international community.  But, not amongst them alone; the frustration is now manifest among the region’s academics, business people, media, and all those who spent the better part of their lives trying to maintain a Caribbean identity and culture, and, at least, a modicum of Caribbean autonomy over the  region’s affairs.

It is obvious to all who are, or have been, involved in our region’s development that none – not one – of our countries will successfully maintain Caribbean autonomy, culture and identity if the present trend of individual and opportunistic bargaining with larger and more powerful countries continues. 

ronald_sanders_300_759685897.jpgNone of the CARICOM states have the capacity, individually, to cope with the demands of today’s globalised world. For instance, in the case of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU), few governments have established machinery for implementing their obligations, and it would be a great surprise if any have set up arrangements for monitoring implementation by the EU.  What would seem to be a simple thing – like sending notifications that requirements have been met – has not been done.  And, not only in relation to the EPA, but also in regard to the WTO.  

It may be, of course, that this is a deliberate strategy – a strategy not to fulfil obligations until the obligations of the treaties are enforced by the other side through costly arbitration and, eventually, punitive measures.   If that is indeed the strategy, it is a game of high-stakes poker, and not one that the region can win.

The point is that CARICOM states have to decide whether they see their development in terms of gifts for the odd building, a new Airport terminal, a bridge here and a road there that are small plasters for sores, but do not make the region holistically healthy. While there is a place for these things in development plans, they cannot be the entire plan.

What CARICOM has always needed – and what is urgent now – is a comprehensive regional plan devised jointly by governments, the private sector, trade unions and the best Caribbean brains that can be assembled from in and out of the region.  And, that plan must integrate production in a practical manner utilising resources from every country that has them, facilitate cross border investment, and encourage regional amalgamations of productive enterprises.  

The beggar thy neighbour policies that have characterised the region’s dealings for a decade and a year, should not continue into 2011.  It is time for leaders of individual states to make up their minds, state the case for regionalism boldly, and stop playing with the aspirations of the Caribbean people.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sir Ronald Sanders. Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat.

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