Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global Governance, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

Caribbean Leaders Inch Forward on Regional Integration

Peter Richards

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica, Jul 8 2010 (IPS) - For 37 years, Caribbean leaders have fended off charges from critics that the 15-member regional grouping Caricom is nothing more than a talk shop.

Caricom’s common market was intended to improve standards of living and work, accelerate economic development and expand trade and economic relations both inside and outside the bloc, while enhancing international competitiveness.

Ten years ago, leaders set their sights on am ambitious plan to transform the common market into a single market and economy – the CSME – in which goods, services and labour would move freely. However, ongoing spats over immigration and fiscal policy have raised doubts about whether the deadline of 2015 will be met.

Speaking at the close of Caricom’s annual summit in this resort capital on Wednesday night, Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding acknowledged that the current crop of leaders have not fulfilled the dreams of those visionaries who led the integration movement.

“We have not yet achieved even the goals that we as the contemporary heirs of that legacy have set for our time,” he said.

Still, Golding, the chair of Caricom for the next six months, told reporters that he was pleased with the new commitment shown by his colleagues and that the “heavy agenda” reflected the many ongoing issues that the Caribbean continues to grapple with.

He was also quick to note that the agenda reflected “the dissatisfaction that exists among many of our Caribbean people that Caricom is not doing as much as it should” and that “it is not demonstrating the seriousness with which issues affecting the Caribbean people must be addressed”.

As a first step, the leaders have established a seven-member committee to be assisted by a regional technical working group to “examine the proposals that have been put on the table” regarding issues of governance.

One possibility is an Organisation of American States (OAS)- style permanent council of representatives, although no final decision on the new governance structure would be taken before a special meeting of regional leaders in September.

On the CSME, Golding said that, “We have given until the end of September for completion of the auditing that has to be done and the heads propose to examine that to determine the reasons for non-compliance.”

The provision allowing for the free movement of workers in the region was supposed to take effect this year, but St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Dougla said the leaders have come to the realisation that it will not happen.

“Our ideals were very praise-worthy, they were noble, but maybe we were a little too utopian and idealistic to get it to work,” he said, noting that the current legislation in the Caribbean allows for immigration officers to use their discretion in permitting entry to the respective Caricom member countries.

The Caribbean is also pushing for a new model of development that would allow for the international community to re- assess how it provides financial and other assistance to the region.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo said that the presence of the U.N. secretary-general, as well as the heads of the OAS and International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the summit, was part of the strategy to sell the model to the international community.

He said the Caribbean wanted support from these institutions for “a new model of development appropriate to small developing countries that would be significantly different from the model pursued by the larger developing countries.”

“Unless it is done so, then this group of countries to which we belong to would not be seen as a special category of countries with real vulnerabilities that are different from others, requiring different sets of development tools to address their concerns.”

Jagdeo said in this new initiative would need to garner political support from several countries, including those in the G8.

“Once we have those together we may be able to succeed in changing the development paradigm for our region and to get a series of things that we are arguing for, special instruments that would allow us to prosper,” he said.

He said the new model concept may influence the discussions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) because “right now the focus has been on LDCs requiring special and deferential treatment but not Caribbean countries because they don’t recognise us as a special category”.

“It could influence tremendously the final outcome of the WTO agreement, it could influence the provision of debt relief for the first time ever for middle-income countries if we succeed in getting the model in place. It would allow us to get a significant chunk of the money set aside for climate change…so the first task has to be model building,” Jagdeo said.

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