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PM makes case for union with Trinidad and Tobago

PM makes case for union with Trinidad and Tobago

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Is the Patrick Manning integration initiative a quest for “a more perfect union” or a distraction from that which is currently unfolding at the two levels of regional unity?{{more}}

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is working towards economic union by 2015, and the nine-member sub-region of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has resolved to form an economic union by the end of next year.

So why is there a new initiative at this time?

That was the crux of debate that took place in parliament last Thursday, October 9, as lawmakers grappled with whether or not the joint declaration of a collaboration towards the achievement of a single economy and political integration among Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St Lucia and this country should be endorsed and pursued.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves again made the case for the initiative.

He argued that the Manning initiative, which was signed on August 14 by the Prime Ministers of the four countries, was the work of leaders who are committed to the integration process and wanted to move more swiftly towards it.

According to the declaration, the four countries are working towards forming an economic union by 2011 and an appropriate political union by 2013.

He said, that like the members of the OECS, Trinidad and Tobago has concluded that it was unlikely that the single economy will be achieved by 2015 within CARICOM.

He singled out Jamaica’s Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s attitude at last July’s CARICOM Heads of Government meeting to prove that CARICOM as a whole may not be ready to march quickly towards economic and political integration.

The heads of government at the time were signing a declaration of recommitment to the spirit of the Dickinson Bay agreement, which provided for the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) in 1968.

Golding, however, objected to two paragraphs of the statement: the one that called for swifter implementation of initiatives taken towards a CARICOM economic union by 2015, and the other, which called for the principles enunciated 2003 Rose Hall declaration must be given flesh and brought into reality.

Dr Gonsalves said that when the Rose Hall declaration was passed, Prime Minister Golding, then opposition leader of Jamaica, had said that he wanted nothing to do with the declaration “because it represented for him, an attempt to bring the Federation (The West Indies Federation January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962) through the back door.”

The key component of the Rose Hall declaration was the setting up of a Commission, different to, but drawing spirit from the European Commission, to take the integration process forward.

Dr Gonsalves said that Golding, as he did while in opposition, had reservations about any arrangement that will call for a central political arrangement.

He said that it was at that meeting that Manning indicated to him that he wanted to pursue a union with the members of the OECS.

“We have in Trinidad at the helm of the government the most advanced integrationist in the political system in Trinidad and Tobago and he is interested, and we should seize the moment.”

The Manning initiative was endorsed at a meeting of the OECS on September 11, and Dr Gonsalves is confident that other OECS nations, along with Barbados and Guyana, will eventually come on board.

However, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace is worried that the Manning initiative is just a response to Jamaica’s position.

Eustace argued that the new move is repetitious and will slow down the process of integration rather than speed it up.

He said that the limited human resources that will be used to pursue the Manning initiative will be better used working on what exists in the OECS and CARICOM, and working out the various issues, including dealing with Jamaica’s reservations.

He said that Jamaica has been active and has played a leading role in Caribbean integration but has a problem with the single economy and the governance arrangement required for that.

“Let us try and deal with Jamaica on that,” Eustace said.

Other parliamentarians like Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker, Telecommunications Minister Dr Jerrol Thompson, Northern Grenadines representative Dr Godwin Friday, Opposition Senator St Clair Leacock and others weighed in on the issue.

Following Dr Gonsalves’ wind-up address, the motion was passed.

It was abundantly clear from all the contributions to the debate that the issue wasn’t whether or not economic union within the region was desirable or beneficial.

The position that was held by those on the opposition side of the house was that the Manning initiative is an unwelcome and unneeded ingredient in the ever-cooking stew of regional integration. (KJ)