FORMER prime minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson has lamented the fact that Jamaicans and other Caribbean Community (Caricom) nationals were still experiencing difficulties travelling through the 15-member grouping despite efforts to ease restrictions on travel.
Addressing the Rotary Club of Georgetown World Understanding Month dinner on Monday night, Patterson questioned how foreigners, who on entering the region for 2007 Cricket World Cup, were able to moved around with "absolute freedom" while Caricom nationals — though armed with their Caricom passports — had to establish their identity at each port of entry.
"What purpose does the Caricom passport serve if travelling within the region is still like an obstacle race?" Patterson said,
"It simply doesn't make sense," he told the Rotarians, adding that the regional integration movement is in danger and that Caribbean governments must start using their collective strengths to tackle challenging issues.
He called on Caricom leaders to decide on their priorities as well as set a specific timetable in order to accelerate regional growth and development.
"In a time of severe constraints, Caricom heads will have to decide on priorities... and set a specific timetable on competing areas to accelerate regional growth and development," he said.
"Let me make it clear, as of now, some of these urgent steps are required to rescue Caricom, or else life of course may come too late to prevent permanent coma,"
In his address, Patterson also hinted at the need to re-exaime the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member grouping.
"I say so because this regional underpinning of the current construct has carried us thus far but the time has come for us to revise it as we provide the blue-print for a brighter Community future," he said. The treaty was revised in 2000 with the adoption of nine protocols to facilitate the establishment of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) allowing for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.
The former Jamaica prime minister said despite various problems, Caricom had achieved some notable successes, including dismantling trade barriers and establishing a single market.
"The single market is now well established, but much more can be done to stimulate more regional commerce," he said, adding that "both in the field of international diplomacy and the arenas of global trade and commerce, Caricom has been united loud and unequivocal, not always listed with positive responses from the more industrial nations".
Patterson also pointed to what he termed "another achievement" in the establishment of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice to replace the London-based Privy Council as the region's final court.
Patterson said with the decision of the United States to introduce new financial regulations or provide information on deposit and investment from American citizens and residents, Caricom should examine the possibility of reciprocity and demand of Washington that they must supply information of people from the Caribbean who have funding and savings in their financial institutions.
"Why shouldn't we reciprocate and demand of them that they must supply information on people from the Caribbean who have funding and savings in their financial institutions?" he asked.
He said Caricom should also explore trade and other opportunities with new economic powers such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
"We can identify economic collaboration and expansion of trade for capital investment, increase goods and services and development of new technologies," he said, urging Caribbean countries to seek to identify what "we have to offer in exchange production for access to other market.
"However, most importantly, building a knowledge economy holds the key for the survival and future prosperity of the entire Caribbean. The building and accumulation of our human capital is the only way forward."