When it was rolled out back in 2006 as the most ambitious project to date of the post-Federation reincarnation of the regional integration movement, the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) held out much promise as a kind of saviour for the region operating within an inherently hostile environment shaped by globalization.
With the initial launch of the single market to be followed in subsequent years by the single economy component, CSME was presented as a path to realizing the dream of Caribbean unity, building stronger economies, and giving the region, to quote the words of a once frequently heard radio jingle, “a stronger voice in the global community”.
Almost ten years on, CSME has run into a self-inflicted snag, and no longer seems a high development priority for the region. Despite commitments which were originally given, the sponsors of CSME –– the governments of the
12 participating states –– have failed to implement the single economy aspect within the scheduled time frame.
Compared with ten years ago when mention of CSME was an almost daily occurrence in the regional mass media, little is heard about it today –– not even on a regular basis from the locally-based CSME Unit which is responsible for selling the initiative to the region’s people and ensuring that it enjoys a high level of visibility and awareness.
The noticeable decline in public enthusiasm, plus a global environment where fundamental changes call into question the continued relevance of CARICOM as currently structured, raises questions about the viability of CSME itself. Strident nationalism, which is the antithesis of regionalism and contributed in a major way to the demise of the Federation, is also resurfacing in some instances.
Take, for example, recent comments by Jamaica Observer columnist Dr Franklin Johnston, an adviser to the Minister of Education.
Last Friday he wrote: “Jamaica has gifted people often blinded by belief, so we lose to the less gifted and are poor. We make headlines, but not gains. Eastern Caribbean politicians outfoxed us in Federation, conned us into a single economy (CSME) knowing we were too far to benefit and now corner us in the CCJ.
“They are close-knit islands in their comfort zone; we are up north; so neither CSME nor CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) works for us. The distance and our preference for the north are immutable . . .”.
If Dr Johnston’s comments on regionalism are reflective of mainstream Jamaican thinking, then it suggests that Barbados and other countries made a fundamental mistake in opening their doors too quickly to a seemingly large influx of Jamaicans who have benefited from the free movement provisions of CSME to take up residence and provide competition for locals in the employment market.
Even though Dr Johnson says the CCJ and CSME are of no benefit to Jamaicans, the well-known case of Shanique Myrie contradicts his argument and shows up its baselessness. Miss Myrie, readers will recall, is the young Jamaican who was denied entry by Barbados Immigration a few years ago and took the Government of Barbados to the CCJ in a highly publicized case over what she considered to be a violation of her right to entry under the free movement provisions of the CSME. She won the case.
Barbados is the CARICOM state whose Head of Government has lead responsibility for overseeing the implementation of CSME. While former Prime Minister Owen Arthur was an enthusiastic champion of the project, his successors after the 2008 change of Government have not demonstrated such zeal.
It is known that the late Prime Minister David Thompson, though committed to regional integration, had concerns about the adverse social and other effects which free movement under CSME was having on Barbados. Current Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who too has expressed commitment to regionalism, has continued the same cautious approach.
Just as Dr Johnston is calling for Jamaica to come first in CARICOM matters, the same call can be made in the case of Barbados which, many Barbadians believe, has been placed at a disadvantage. Under the free movement provision of CSME, for example, more people from the region have moved into Barbados than Barbadians have moved out.
Besides, the playing field elsewhere in the region is not always level for Barbadians. In the OECS countries, for example, preference in employment is given to their nationals first and CARICOM nationals afterwards. In Barbados, OECS nationals enjoy a level playing field to compete against Barbadians for jobs.
The current lull in relation to the CSME presents a timely opportunity for a thorough review of its performance. Unless issues of concern are satisfactorily resolved, it makes no sense rushing to implement the single economy component and exposing CSME to additional controversy.