Sunday, February 18, 2018

Keeping ‘SS Caricom’ afloat

AMID recurring criticisms of and support for the Caribbean Community, it is quite rare for serious concerns to be expressed about what it could mean for us as citizens of “one Caribbean” if we had no functioning mechanisms to sustain the twin-pillars of regional economic integration and functional cooperation.

Truth is that with so much criticism about real and imagined weaknesses of the operations of the 15-member Community, precious little thought is given to what it would be mean for regional unity and social and economic prospects without Caricom—warts and all.

No studies have been undertaken to provide data to guide planning for the long-term future about the harmful consequences that could develop if we are no longer able, as people of “One Community”, to keep SS Caricom afloat—even with the much canvassed, but yet to materialise new management architecture.

It is not as if the decision-makers have done no thinking on this quite fundamental issue. I have been advised that “talking” about this challenging problem has been going on “for some time”. Well, as the cynics would remind us, “talk is free”. It is the doing that matters.

In this context there came some good news this past Monday from the Georgetown-based Community Secretariat.

A high-level forum on statistics held in Grenada last month stimulated interest in preparations for a “data revolution” heavily focused on regional data collection and dissemination. The theme of the forum was “A Data Revolution for Sustainable Development”.

A representative of the European Union told the Grenada meeting of his preparedness to seek funding with the specific focus of “exploring the opportunity costs of not having a Caribbean Community in place”.

The offer to seek funding came from Ewout Sandker, head of the EU’s cooperation delegation to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and the Dutch overseas territories.

As stated by the Caricom Secretariat, Ambassador Sandker disclosed that the EU had conducted, back in 1980, a study that “calculated the opportunity cost of not having a fully integrated market in Europe….The results were quite amazing with an enormous push to regional integration that provided a good opportunity for mobilising the private sector in Europe which saw the benefits they were not getting by not having a fully integrated market…”

I sought responses from both the Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, and the Community’s chairman, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves. Both welcomed the offer by the EU’s representative and pledged to do whatever was necessary to help transform the gesture into reality.

Currently, the secretariat has to cope with the challenges of an expenditure of some EC$100 million annually for the operational costs of Caricom with its wide-ranging programmes and projects to sustain economic integration and functional co-operation.

These expenditures are met mainly from budgetary allocations from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana.

For their part, while the countries of the OECS sub-region discovered from a study, some four years ago, that they had comparatively little to gain from Caricom’s touted Single Market and Economy they, nevertheless, remained committed to the project and fully embraced the diversified functional co-operation programmes.

The immediate concern is to get the proposed project for a “Data Revolution for Sustainable Development” off the ground and for the related funding identified by EU’s Ambassador Sandker to become a reality.

Rickey Singh is a noted Guyana-born, Barbados-based Caribbean journalist