Saturday, February 24, 2018

Two visions for Caricom

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Mark Fraser

WHILE we await the results of the second Summit of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) that concludes in Cuba today, it is advisable that interest is also maintained on expectations from next month’s inter-sessional  meeting of  Caricom Heads of Government scheduled for St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Of critical importance is which of two visions would influence decisions to shape and implement policies and programmes of the 15-member regional economic integration movement for the remaining six years of this third decade that marks Caricom’s 40th anniversary. 

Current community chairman and host for next month’s two-day conference, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, is on record as stating they would be meeting in “difficult national circumstances and in a regional and international context fraught with economic uncertainty, existential threats arising from climate change; multiple exogenous and home-grown regional burdens…”

Hence, the relevance of the question: which of the two visions will influence the decisions for the way forward?

One such vision is located in what’s known as  the Caribbean Regional Integration report, submitted since April 2011. It was a major project commissioned by the United Kingdom’s  Department for  International Development (DIFID) which continues to sustain a development partnership with this region.                   

It was carried out as a project of the St Augustine-based Institute of International Relations (IIR) of the University of the West Indies and involved wide-ranging interviews with key stakeholders—governments, private sector, trade unions and other civil society organisations.

As the IIR’s Dr Matthew Bishop (lead editor of the report) points out in the latest edition of The Pelican (magazine of The University of the West Indies), 20 major recommendations were offered.

These were largely based on interviews involving 100 persons, among them political leaders, diplomats, (foreign and regional) officials of development partner agencies, plus participation of some 40 stakeholders in a critical discussion of the draft report.

“We wrote this huge report,” noted Dr Bishop, and made 20 recommendations “on what needs to happen to take  the integration process forward…not a single person said we should scrap it (Caricom). “There  remains,” he lamented, “a disconnect between the desires of the region and the outcome of the regional integration process.” 

And economist Dr Norman Girvan, often applauded for his timely and inspiring interventions on regional affairs, who was part of the IIR’s team for the report, feels that since 2011 when the seminal report  was submitted by DIFID, the situation for Caribbean integration “has deteriorated and the despair and cynicism of the population may have reached the point of no return.”

In addition, pointed out Dr Girvan—currently hospitalised with serious injuries suffered from a fall—Caricom’s Single Market and Economy is becoming “less attractive to several alternatives” that have arisen. 

Among these, he has identified the region’s Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union; Venezuela’s inspired Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas and PetroCaribe—another initiative by Venezuela.

What, however, has prompted more than unease about the likely pursuit of a “second vision” for Caricom’s future is a report commissioned by the Community’s Heads of Government and submitted to the Community Secretariat by the UK-based consultancy Landell Mills Ltd.

In contrast to major recommendations to deepen and widen regional economic integration, as outlined in the DIFID report of 2011—the Landell Mills’ report while conceding that Caricom was in  a state of crisis, offered  a limited scope for the future”, as compared with the DIFID’s report and urged the strengthening of the Community Secretariat and related organs.

The Heads of Government, therefore, must decide—sooner than later—which of the two visions should be pursued in the interest of enlightened regional integration.

However pressing the challenges regional leaders confront for next month’s meeting in St Vincent, they cannot shy away from making a choice between the DIFID-located vision, which resulted from wide-ranging consultations, and that of Landell Mills.