Time for hon­esty about the fu­ture of the CSME

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

In the com­ing days, CARICOM Heads of Gov­ern­ment will meet in Mon­tego Bay. There, they will hold a spe­cial ses­sion on the fu­ture of the Caribbean Sin­gle Mar­ket and Econ­omy (CSME). They will also con­sider the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained in the Gold­ing re­port, which was pub­lished ear­lier this year.

As is now well known, that re­port spoke to the re­gion’s his­toric fail­ure to mod­ernise; CARICOM govern­ments’ in­abil­ity to act on de­ci­sions; and the need for long over­due re­me­dial mea­sures to be agreed to make the CSME fit for pur­pose. It made 33 spe­cific rec­om­men­da­tions and pro­posed that each CARICOM state should com­mit to es­tab­lish­ing a ‘spe­cific, time-bound, mea­sur­able and ver­i­fi­able’ ac­tion pro­gramme to make the CSME ‘fully es­tab­lished and op­er­a­tional’ within the next five years.

More re­cently, to in­form and per­haps pre-empt too di­vi­sive a de­bate when Heads come to dis­cuss how to make the CSME more ef­fec­tive, CARICOM con­vened a two-day re­gional stake­holder con­sul­ta­tion in Guyana to ex­plore these ideas.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the meet­ing demon­strated that while a con­sen­sus is achiev­able on the value and ben­e­fit to be de­rived from re­gional in­te­gra­tion, it may now be im­pos­si­ble to reach an agree­ment on what must be done to breathe new life into a process plagued by rhetoric and in­ac­tion.

The com­ments made in Ge­orge­town showed the moun­tain that the re­gion must climb if a new con­sen­sus on the re­vival of the re­gional in­te­gra­tion process is to be achieved. It in­di­cated that noth­ing short of a fun­da­men­tal re­design of the ar­chi­tec­ture of the CSME is now re­quired.

Among those present were the Prime Min­is­ter of St Vin­cent, Dr Ralph Gon­salves, and Bruce Gold­ing, Ja­maica’s for­mer Prime Min­is­ter. Both were of the view that the orig­i­nal con­cept of the CSME may now be un­vi­able but ex­pressed sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent views on the steps re­quired to change its struc­ture and trajectory.

Dr Gon­salves told par­tic­i­pants that is­sues such as the free move­ment of peo­ple, the co-or­di­na­tion of for­eign pol­icy, eco­nomic dis­par­ity, in­ter-is­land air and sea trans­port, and a change in the CARICOM gov­er­nance struc­ture had to be un­der­taken be­fore the re­gion could ever achieve a sin­gle econ­omy.

He ar­gued that since a supra na­tional ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity was unattain­able, a re­vised Treaty of Ch­aguara­mas amended to ac­com­mo­date the less de­vel­oped economies in the re­gion was re­quired. He was crit­i­cal of trade im­bal­ances, sug­gest­ing Trinidad was draw­ing the most from the in­te­gra­tion process. On free move­ment, he said that the re­gion had to be­hon­est and ac­cept that the do­mes­tic pop­u­la­tions of the OECS and Bar­ba­dos were never go­ing to agree while un­em­ploy­ment re­mained high else­where.

In sub­se­quent re­marks, Mr Gold­ing made a dif­fer­ent case. He sug­gested that all eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion mech­a­nisms ex­pected to see win­ners and losers, but that it was prob­a­ble that no CARICOM coun­try-by-coun­try im­pact as­sess­ment had ever been un­der­taken on is­sues such as macroe­co­nomic con­ver­gence, the free move­ment of peo­ple, and the free cir­cu­la­tion of goods. The fail­ure of the CSME to progress to its ul­ti­mate goal, he sug­gested, had there­fore at its root, deep unar­tic­u­lated mis­giv­ings that full im­ple­men­ta­tion was likely to do more harm than good. What was re­quired, he ar­gued, was an anal­y­sis that would lead to in­formed con­clu­sions en­abling govern­ments ei­ther to “get on with it with the nec­es­sary ur­gency and en­thu­si­asm, or to say plainly to the Caribbean peo­ple: look, it is not go­ing to work….”

More re­cently still, Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness, who from July 1 as­sumes the pro tem­pore Chair­man­ship of CARICOM, said in a Par­lia­men­tary de­bate that the ul­ti­mate goal of the re­view was “to un­der­take a long over­due foren­sic anal­y­sis of CARICOM’s struc­ture, pro­ce­dures and prac­tices” in or­der to max­imise the ben­e­fits and to in­form the re­gion. In an ap­par­ent re­flec­tion of chang­ing re­gional po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics and di­vi­sions within his own Cab­i­net, he also made it clear that

HJa­maica has no in­ten­tion of leav­ing the Com­mu­nity.

Whether a re­gional con­sen­sus ex­ists to agree to ei­ther the type of rad­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing of the CSME that Dr Gon­salves wishes to see, or to adopt the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained in the Gold­ing re­port, which Ja­maica’s Par­lia­ment has now adopted, is far from cer­tain.

If past ac­tions are any guide to the fu­ture, what this may mean is that Heads, un­able to agree, could call in­stead for in depth stud­ies on the im­pact that full im­ple­men­ta­tion of the CSME might have or even a new Com­mis­sion to study the is­sues, while seek­ing to make the CARICOM Sec­re­tar­iat more ad­min­is­tra­tively ac­count­able.

If this is the con­clu­sion, it will push back fur­ther the de­liv­ery of fun­da­men­tal re­form, and as with the Ram­phal Com­mis­sion be­fore, set aside the new think­ing that has emerged, plac­ing the CSME back on the road to nowhere.

It could be ar­gued that this is sim­ply an ac­cu­rate ex­pres­sion of the realpoli­tik of a di­vided re­gion which largely is in nei­ther a good nor bad place eco­nom­i­cally, and is still thank­fully ex­empt from the po­lit­i­cal volatil­ity, stri­dent na­tion­al­ism, and author­i­tar­i­an­ism emerg­ing else­where. ow­ever, such an out­come would do noth­ing to de­liver in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture any ob­serv­able so­cial or eco­nomic gain for Caribbean cit­i­zens, par­tic­u­larly the young, to bet­ter re­late the CSME to the needs of the pri­vate sec­tor, or take the re­gion much beyond platitudes sug­gest­ing that ‘some­thing must be done.’ Nor would it ad­dress how to legally en­com­pass the or­ganic eco­nomic drift that in the years ahead will likely draw some CARICOM states to­wards want­ing to deepen trade by vary­ing tar­iffs for ge­o­graph­i­cally prox­i­mate nations, ei­ther be­cause they rep­re­sent a more nat­u­ral eco­nomic fit, or be­cause this will be the cost of new ar­range­ments on en­ergy, se­cu­rity or other is­sues.

It would sug­gest that if re­form does not hap­pen soon, all that will be left will be a re­gional iden­tity, sen­ti­ment, the con­tin­u­ing de­par­ture of the Caribbean’s most able, and fif­teen Hobbe­sian states seek­ing na­tion­al­is­tic ad­van­tage in ways that un­der­cut the in­ter­ests of their neigh­bours.

I hope I am proved wrong; that CARICOM Heads this com­ing week can be hon­est and in­spire, that Bar­ba­dos’ new Prime Min­is­ter, Mia Mot­t­ley, will be able to in­vig­o­rate her col­leagues’ think­ing, and that an out­come that publicly iden­ti­fies the nec­es­sary steps to re­form emerges along­side agreed ob­jec­tives and a timetable. I am not hold­ing my breath.

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­sop@caribbean-coun­cil.org

Pre­vi­ous col­umns can be found at https://www.caribbean­coun­cil.org/re­search-anal­y­sis/

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