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CARICOM'S deepening, widening challenges

ANALYSIS

RICKEY SINGH

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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THE RECURRING problem of CARICOM's serious implementation deficit was back in the news last week, but with no assurances of how soon specific initiatives could be expected to encourage confidence-building in the region's slow-moving process in economic integration and wider membership.

The yawning gap has resurfaced between official assurances and lack of precise actions to narrow the prevailing deficit challenges in implementation of unanimously adopted decisions.

This time against the recent backdrop of passionate discussions on the internet by some well known regional scholars, intellectuals and others in offering varying perspectives on an old but quite important issue — the widening and deepening of the Caribbean Community and Common Market, popularly known as (CARICOM).

Now, 39 years after its inauguration at Chaguaramas, in Trinidad, the bitter truth is that as a community of a dozen independent states comprising some 16 million people (almost half being Haitians), CARICOM has quite a low performance rating in both categories — deepening of trade and economic integration, as well as widening the membership constituency.

Some of the participants in the internet discussions registered feelings of "despair" for the future, while others pointed to the growing cynicism and the distancing by governments of the Greater Caribbean and Central America region that feel CARICOM has lost its momentum, if not vision, as a once proud standard-bearer of regional economic integration and functional cooperation movement.

It is true, as some of its official defenders anxiously remind critics — among them government ministers and influential business representatives — that CARICOM is more than just about trade .The sad reality is that even in the area of intra-regional trade, there continues to be sharp criticisms in the volume of imbalances among partner states.

At the same time some rightly worry over the lingering heavy dependence on foreign imports of food and beverages that are costing a foreign exchange drain of at least US$4 billion annually amid uncessant chatter about ensuring our "food security" with new agricultural policies and programmes.

Harsh reality

The harsh reality is that, for all the enticing rhetoric, too many of our governments — not ignoring either leading regional entrepreneurs — and too many of the ultimate decision-makers in the public/private sectors, seem to have lost the "vision" that inspired the inauguration of CARICOM.

Further, they need to revisit the significant 1989 "Grande Anse Declaration" in Grenada on the way forward for a seamless regional economy for the benefit of "One People, One Community" — a favourite reference point for the Community Secretariat.

Having ignored for far too long the challenges located in the 'Grand Anse Declaration', it should come as no surprise that even if such government and private sector leaders can recall the seminal work of the path-finding West Indian Commission of 1992, they seem to lack the political will to inspire a new collective approach to achieve the goals for deepening and widening CARICOM as an authentic regional economic integration movement.

Since many of today's heads of government appear overburdened with varying domestic political and economic challenges — a few of them actually struggling to retain state power — perhaps the current CARICOM chairman, Dr Kenny Anthony, has an obligation to rise to the big challenge of the moment.

Quite familiar with the functioning of CARICOM as a former legal counsel, Anthony returned as prime minister of St Lucia last November and remains, after earlier serving as a two-term head of Government, well equipped intellectually to discourage sloth and encourage a renewal of vision for a "wider and deeper" Caribbean Community.

If he cares sufficiently for CARICOM — as I think he does — he could make use of his remaining four-odd months as the community's chairman to come forward with some new ideas and guidelines to generate fresh initiatives for a wider integration movement with a a realistic stick-with-it implementation schedule of policies and programmes to beat-back the spreading disenchantment over the implementation deficit staring at ALL member governments.

Of Patterson and Jagdeo

Prime Minister Anthony could perhaps begin with an ideas-sharing discourse starting with, for instance, PJ Patterson, the former long-standing prime minister of Jamaica, generally recognised as an elder statesman of the region and with good personal relations with all serving CARICOM leaders.

Knowing him as I do, Patterson would be ready to concede shortcomings during his own period of heading governments in Kingston and as a key player in collective leadership of CARICOM.

He retired from office with some clearly defined positions on the way forward for our regional integration movement that must now move with much vigour and foresight to close the wide implementation deficit and renew meaningful interest in the original concept of a "wider and deeper" CARICOM.

Chairman Anthony should also consider having a follow-up discourse on CARICOM's future with another long-serving head of government, former President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, whose government had done much to improve and strengthen the functional facilities of the Community's Secretariat in Georgetown.

Now retired after heading three governments, Jagdeo, like Patterson, has much experience and ideas to share and is fully acquainted with current and immediate past prime ministers of the community.

Wishful thinking on my part? Perhaps. But let's see how many governments can be re-energised, at least over the next year, in favour of a 'wider' and 'deeper' CARICOM in a rapidly changing global environment by new leadership initiatives starting with what the current chairman, Dr Anthony, may have choose to pursue.

His welcome address to the CARICOM Summit he hosted last July in Castries revealed a refreshing personal commitment to help inspire consensual regional efforts on the way forward for our Community of diverse people, cultures and economic development objectives..

Perhaps it could all climax with an extraordinary two, if not one-day meeting of CARICOM heads, supported by a corps of some of the best known regional experts in our midst — weeks ahead of next July's regular annual summit that's scheduled for Haiti.

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