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Special Caricom heads meeting must achieve CSME results

BY ELIZABETH MORGAN

Monday, December 03, 2018

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THROUGH complacency, poor management and lack of vision the West Indies cricket team is now the sick man of cricket, struggling for a place at the bottom. It is said that the state of cricket in the Caribbean reflects the political, social and economic state of the region.

Since the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed in 2002, complacency, insularity, lack of commitment, and poor management have led to stagnation and discontent in the implementation of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). Consequently, Caricom has had many missed opportunities to realise its potential.

Caricom heads of government will be attending a special meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad, over two days beginning today, December 3. The meeting will be chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica as the current chair of Caricom. The priority item on the agenda will be the implementation of the CSME. The decision to convene this meeting was taken at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference held in Montego Bay in July. This conference considered the report of the Bruce Golding Commission on Caricom and CARIFORUM which was a call for action.

Barbados has lead responsibility for the CSME in the Caricom Quasi Cabinet. New Prime Minister Mia Mottley, in her maiden address, stated her commitment to moving the CSME forward. She demonstrated that commitment by convening a meeting of the Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on the CSME in Barbados in September. She has made her position clear – the countries of Caricom need to stand together and the time for implementation is now.

It was while attending the CSME meeting in Barbados that the President of Guyana David Granger reiterated his country's commitment to the regional project and invited member states to join with Guyana as the country embarked on its journey as an oil producer. Granger wants Guyana's oil to benefit the entire region.

Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque told the 47th Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), on November 16, that budding trade wars, Brexit, and threats to the rules-based multilateral trading system all had implications for Caricom. He stated that agreement on and implementation of regional trade and economic policies assumed greater importance if Caricom was to safeguard its interest in the global arena and improve the lives of the people of the region. The most important immediate task for the region, as the secretary general saw it, was to advance the implementation of the CSME.

With the background of an uncertain global environment, Caricom heads will be examining how the CSME can contribute to trade and development. Indeed, with recent developments abroad and in the region it should be clear to all that Caricom has to stand together. Recall that Caricom needs to focus more on trade as a means of implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I have often wondered whether Caricom ministers actually understand the importance of the CSME to the region. The focus tends more often than not to be on intra-regional goods trade, and on Trinidad and Tobago's share of that trade. Trinidad and Tobago was primarily selling petroleum products within the region. The T&T State-owned oil refinery, PetroTrin, closed on November 30. That closure is likely to lead to a reduction of trade within the region from that source.

Caricom member states are not each other's principal trading partners. The principal trade partner of Caricom countries is the United States. The CSME was intended not only to promote trade within Caricom, but to place Caricom in a position to increase its external trade as a region by creating the policy framework and infrastructure required. The failure to implement the CSME, to the full extent possible, has meant a failure to establish the policy framework and infrastructure for international trade.

Caricom has not strengthened its sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) regime, its intellectual property rights regime, and its trade in services regime. There is little uniformity in policies and regulations within Caricom. If the CSME is to contribute to the region's trade and development, then heads must be paying attention to the following:

TRADE IN SERVICES

Trade is not just about goods; it is about the export and import of goods and services. Trade in services is particularly important for the region and is contributing a greater share to gross domestic product (GDP). Services include tourism, financial and accounting services (banking, insurance, money transfer); consultancy; business processing; education; transportation; postal and courier; distribution; creative and cultural industries; among others. It also includes movement of people.

Currently, services data is only collected for balance of payments purposes and this data is not disaggregated. Thus Caricom actually does not know the value and volume of services trade which is conducted within the region or between the region and third countries. Trade in services data is not properly collected in Caricom as a region or in individual member states.

A reason given in Jamaica for the inability to strengthen services data collection is that the private sector is reluctant to complete the required surveys. This lack of data affects planning and trade negotiations. Therefore, the implementation of the Caricom services regime needs to be accelerated.

Antigua and Barbuda is the lead responsible for the services regime in the quasi cabinet.

EXTERNAL TRADE NEGOTIATIONS

Trade, as we know, makes an important contribution to growth and development. If Caricom's principal trading partners are outside of the region, then consideration of external trade issues and developing a regional trade agenda/strategy should be important. As the secretary general pointed out, the rules-based multilateral trade system is under threat. Reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is being proposed. The Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA) with the USA is up for renewal in 2019. Brexit requires an examination of trade with the UK, the Commonwealth, African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, and the EU27.

Caricom needs to re-examine trade with Latin America and the Caribbean and its neighbours. Caricom's trade agenda/strategy has not been reviewed since the suspension of the trade negotiations with Canada in 2015. Much has happened in global trade since then. The lead prime minister responsible for external trade negotiations in the quasi cabinet is Jamaica. A Caricom trade agenda and strategy need to be formulated at the earliest opportunity.

There should be a mandate coming out of this special heads meeting to address these issues as a priority. The members of the quasi cabinet all need to play their part in driving the CSME implementation. Besides Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and Jamaica, others needing to give support, including Grenada, responsible for science and technology as well as information and communications; Dominica responsible for labour, including intra-Caricom movement of skills; Guyana, responsible for agriculture; St Vincent and the Grenadines responsible for transportation; and Trinidad and Tobago, responsible for Energy and Security.

As demonstrated in cricket, it takes a good, committed, well-managed team to achieve consistent positive results.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.

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