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Of Sir Edwin, Caricom and Regional Integration

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by Carlos James, Esq. 19.NOV.10

CARICOM Secretary General H.E. Sir Edwin Carrington has had his work cut out for him. However, after nearly 20 years as head of the Caribbean Community, there is little to be excited about in terms of progress made towards full integration.{{more}}

This, however, does not minimise the significance of his contribution to the region spanning nearly two decades.

It was interesting to read Sir Edwin’s comments, admitting that the institution had failed to bring home its policies to the common Caribbean man, who simply does not see or understand the workings of CARICOM. If I may suggest, Sir Edwin’s comments on CARICOM’s failed public relations policy is more than just a lack of public awareness. What can CARICOM really put forward to the region and flaunt as effective integration policies?

Yes, the people of the region understand what CARICOM means to them, what it implies and what it requires of them, but what exactly is being done, where are the functional policies?

Frankly, there is not much to look forward to from CARICOM as a regional entity. It has lost its sparkle. No longer are we hearing the chorus of regional leaders who once sang the same tune of regionalism, a single market and a single economic space. Interestingly, Sir Edwin has admitted that the framework to make the CARICOM Single Market (CSM) and the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) fully operational is in place. In what can be considered a diplomatic cry for help, Sir Edwin confessed that more thrust is needed for both initiatives to take firm steps towards realisation.

CARICOM has become stagnant and cannot handle the surmountable challenges of our region’s changing political economy. It is swiftly withering into a failed institution lacking the energy, vision, and the political will to carry forward its mandate. In no uncertain terms, can a framework for integration survive solely on the technical machinery of the CARICOM Secretariat without the political will of the region’s leaders? The structure for the integration process is merely skeletal, crippled, non-functional and hangs on life support.

There is a need for reforms at every level of the CARICOM.

I must agree that formalising a single economic space is no easy task. The difficulties faced by the powerful European Union is evidence of this, but we must be reminded that the Caribbean Community is characterised by a people of common cultural and political identity. The socio-political dynamics of our region puts us in a more suitable position to establish and benefit from such a union. Even the big capitalist countries are moving away from monopolistic ideals and trade protectionism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, ahead of last week’s G20 meeting in Seoul, has warned that the greater danger facing the global economy is a return to trade protectionism. So why is CARICOM failing to further develop its single market and economic space? Where is the political will?

St. Vincent’s Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, and perhaps a few others, stand out as the lone batsmen at the crease, so vocally and tirelessly struggling to add to the score of the opening political giants of Eric Williams, Tom Adams, Errol Barrow, Michael Manley et al.

Instead of moving towards full integration as a region, we are seeing prime ministers becoming more nationalistic in their policies and utterances.

Common foreign policy?

Sir Edwin rightly pointed out that the region needs to develop a strategic foreign policy in order to represent itself on the international stage. I am in agreement with the position that co-ordination of such a framework is paramount, but it must be noted that while some countries take an aggressive approach towards foreign relations, others are quite stagnant and remain passive in befriending new diplomatic allies. We must not be seen as chiding regional countries who take on new focus in forging diplomatic relations with emerging economies.

In fact, we are in trouble if we continue to sit on the laps of traditional allies, who themselves are going further East, seeking new trading partners and political friends. It is important to our sovereignty to move away from this docile form of diplomacy; no country owns us. We need to shift from this conservative foreign policy focus on bilateral relationships and focus on multilateral action. Not surprisingly, we see foreign policies grounded on national interest, ignoring the obvious regional implications of which Sir Edwin is so concerned. Relations with China and Taiwan among our regional states is a never ending game of diplomatic hopscotch, while some continue to act as political stooges to the US and other G8 countries. A point of interest is the headlines last week where the US and Britain are courting both India and China. The West has turned to the East. So what is so wrong with diplomatic relations with Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), Cuba, Venezuela and oil-rich Iran?

We have made many strides as a region. Let’s not turn the wheel back. Let us continue the process of region-wide engagement on the issue of integration. There are obvious lessons that the OECS can offer the larger bloc.

Carlos James, Esq. is a Barrister-at-Law and former journalist.

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