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Editorial

Caricom foreign policy failures

Sunday, January 05, 2014    

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WE spend a lot of time in this space fretting about the workings of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) because we are seized with the critical importance of this regional grouping in advancing our territorial interests.

One of the key goals of Caricom, as set out in Article 4 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, is "co-ordination of foreign policies (presenting a united front in its relations with countries outside the grouping)". There are several points to be noted on this critical mandate, which dates back to colonial times and the negotiations over sugar and banana to the United Kingdom and Canada.

It is an objective that can be pursued even if the integration process is stalled as it is now. Very little co-ordination in a real sense is actually taking place at this time. Meetings and discussions are not to be confused with operationalising this function.

The breakdown of co-ordination in this aspect of Caricom policy has resulted from years of increasing disunity and has had the important detrimental effect of reducing the already limited influence which our group of small states can exert on international affairs.

This is happening at a time when such co-ordination is needed most desperately, given the persistent global economic crisis and profound global geo-political and technological changes taking place. How much longer will we continue to allow nationalistic hubris to overwhelm the capacity for a co-ordinated foreign policy?

A rethink of a co-ordinated Caricom foreign policy is urgently needed and must begin with a critical assessment of the current concept of foreign policy. The current paradigms are the concentric circles articulated by former prime ministers Michael Manley and P J Patterson — country (Jamaica), region (Caribbean), developing countries, the non-aligned movement, and multilateral.

Economic and political co-operation begins most logically and naturally amongst the countries of Caricom. It is in this group that there is the likelihood of common understanding of issues and shared objectives.

The first extension is to the non-Caricom Caribbean, then to the hemisphere, eg the Organisation of American States (OAS) and then to developing country groups such as the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) bloc. From the groupings of developing countries the extension is to the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement. Finally, there is the multilateral level such as the United Nations.

Our grouping is riven with a growing number of contentious disputes, eg intra-regional movement of persons and the bifurcation in approaches to China and Taiwan. In the hemisphere some countries are in the Summit of the Americas and some are in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).

Caricom countries on most occasions cannot agree to vote for the same candidate and by splitting their votes thereby deprive themselves of the chance to make a difference. We do not play a leadership role in the ACP in the way that Sir Shridath Ramphal did, nor is there a modern Ambassador Don Mills in the G77 because we do not have common positions backed by united support.

The Caricom Secretariat and the Institute for International Relations at the University of the West Indies should immediately begin collaboration on a conceptual template for a co-ordinated regional foreign policy, with recommendations on how to prevent future breakdown in co-ordination.

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