Another Heads of Government Conference, another non-event. Little or nothing achieved. The final communique is hollow with regurgitations and ritualistic reporting. No major decisions were taken when decisiveness is needed more than ever. Caricom leaders are sleepwalking as they lead the region to the cliff.
How could you have a Summit at this time and not deal frontally with the single economy? How could you be dealing mainly with foreign policy, and not recognise the single economy as indispensable to effective external relations? The region is facing an economic crisis, due in large measure to its need for improved competitiveness for which the single economy is indispensable. But not a single speech at the opening ceremony focused on this critical issue. Instead the region was again inundated with the tired platitudes from on high. What ostrichism!
The single economy is indispensable for Caricom's survival. It will ensure greater inner resilience of our region through the harmonisation of economic policies; generate development in all member states, making them better trading partners as well as more conducive for intra-Caricom investment; rationalise production where possible towards greater economic efficiency and competitiveness; augment the region's attractiveness for foreign capital flows; and facilitate economic agreements with other countries and regions.
Everywhere, nations have seen the wisdom of deepening ties in their neighbourhood. We have the European Union, Nafta, Mercosur, the Andean Community, UNASUR, the Central American Integration Movement, SADC, ECOWAS, the African Union, ASEAN and even APEC which brings together countries across the vast expanse of the Pacific. Southeast Asian countries, 'long divided by language, religion and historical rivalries' are moving to establish a common market by 2015, a major agenda item of their next Summit.
Caricom has had no barriers like theirs and we have already achieved a common market. But now when we should be accelerating towards the single economy, we have 'pressed pause' on this foundational issue, an absurdity that could eventually equal the collapse of the federation. Let Caricom also note that major nations like the United States, China and Russia have already signed on to ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and at its next summit, Brazil, the UK and the European Union will join. When you are serious, the world takes you seriously.
Yet Trinidad and Tobago, once a regional leader, goes to the Summit with its major objective, the paltry preoccupation of making the Caribbean Court of Justice its "hanging court", by seeking access only in criminal matters. Such expediency, and with the court headquartered in Port of Spain! It bespeaks a selfishness that surfaced early with the PM's insult that this country is no longer an "ATM machine" for Caricom.
This government should know that without Caricom, Trinidad and Tobago has no foreign policy of any significance. It should consider Britain whose external relations are effective depending on its level of integration and influence in the European Union. By itself, Britain is considerably diminished. It needs meaningful relations with its neighbours for progress and influence. If this is true of a developed country like the UK, how much truer it must be for a small developing nation like ours.
And we have been rendered even smaller by the reduced importance of our energy resources. There have been massive oil and gas finds in our hemisphere and beyond. Thanks to shale and hydraulic fracturing, today the US has "hundreds of years" in reserves of natural gas. We should jettison any silly arrogance. We need our regional family more than ever.
Caricom, our second largest market, is critical to our economy. Without it, our manufacturing sector would collapse, causing great unemployment and significant social stress. But we have done nothing in the last two years to either strengthen the integration process or to reaffirm our leadership in the region.
We must now atone by reviving the pursuit of the single economy. But a note of warning. The people must now become involved. Caricom's problem is that it has remained essentially bureaucratic lacking that emotional connection with the people that provides the political legitimacy for action. The region's citizens have not yet been inspired by the critical importance of the single economy. Caricom's leaders must now be persuaded to preach the gospel to their populations in every nook and cranny throughout the region.
The message must be prosperity and security for the people through the establishment of the single economy. At the same time Caricom should be pursuing agreements with other countries and regional groupings but leaving room for adjustments on the realisation of the single economy, thereby demonstrating our commitment to this critical objective.
This will re-energise negotiations with the Central American integration movement and Mercosur, now expanded to include Venezuela. It will also improve market access and investment flows from the United States and revive the spirit and substance of the partnership agreement signed at the first ever Caricom/US Summit in the late nineties in Barbados. It will promote a favourable outcome of present trade and development negotiations with Canada. And it will position the region to benefit from economic relations with Europe or other countries beyond our hemisphere like India, China, Japan and a surging Africa which will account for seven of the world's ten fastest growing economies between 2011 and 2015.
Caricom therefore should have no time for these ritualistic summits of mainly high sounding rhetoric. We need the arrowhead of a single economy to attain sustainable progress and stability for the peoples of the region. The present chairman should take steps to prevent another time- wasting, non- productive meeting of Caricom Heads of Government. Stop sleepwalking to disaster.
—Ralph Maraj is former