Backtrack some ten or so years to around 2005 or 2006! The regional integration movement at the time was enjoying what was arguably its highest visibility in Barbados and other member countries since the July, 1973 signing of the Treaty Of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM).
Under the dynamic leadership of former Prime Minister Owen Arthur who ardently championed the cause, the region was cautiously optimistic as preparations were in full swing for the launch of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the integration movement’s most ambitious project since the collapse of the West Indies Federation just over 40 years before.
Allowing free movement of capital for investment purposes and free movement with full employment rights for designated categories of persons, including university graduates and media workers, CSME promised to unite the region in a way like never before. A stronger regional economy was touted as a key outcome with an overall improved quality of life for the region’s people through the availability of greater opportunities –– additionally, an enhancement of the region’s bargaining power that would give more clout in addressing challenges stemming from globalization.
Fast-track now to 2016! Compared with ten to 11 years ago when CSME received almost daily mention in public discourse, whether through comments by Government or business officials, discussion on radio and TV talk shows, or CARICOM-sponsored radio jingles promising CSME would give the region “a stronger voice in the global community”, there is hardly any mention of CSME today. Interestingly enough, not even by the CARICOM Unit operating out of the Sky Mall complex at Haggatt Hall, St Michael, that is responsible at a technical level for implementing the CSME.
The regional integration project seems to have screeched to a standstill, despite the fact that CARICOM Heads of Government continue to meet formally twice yearly. Compared with earlier years, end-of-summit communiqués these days reveal decisions that provide little to shout about. Little wonder the regional media no longer seem to have the level of interest in CARICOM issues as in previous years because they no longer represent a rich source of exciting stories that would capture public interest.
Commenting on the state of regional integration, following the recent change of government in Jamaica that saw the election of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) known for having a historically lukewarm approach to regionalism, Barbadian-based regional pollster and political scientist Peter Wickham observed: “My sense is that right now, regional integration in the Caribbean is at an all-time low. It doesn’t really have any relevance to the vast majority of the population.”
Besides the stagnation of the CSME project, CARICOM’s malaise is particularly evident in the fact that 15 years after its establishment to replace the British Privy Council as the final appellate court for CARICOM countries, only a handful so far have signed on to its appellate jurisdiction. Trinidad and Tobago, home of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) headquarters, as well as Jamaica stand out among countries that have not fully signed on. As usual, Barbados was the among the first to join, along with Guyana, Belize and Dominica.
The election of a JLP administration is not seen as offering much hope that Jamaica will sign on to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ any time soon, or for any resuscitation of the sagging fortunes of CARICOM as a whole, even though Jamaican nationals have benefited significantly under the CSME’s free movement of people provisions. The significant growth of the Jamaican community in Barbados over the past ten years is testimony to this.
CARICOM’s failure to progress at a pace satisfactory to the broad masses of regional people is often attributed to a lack of political will on the part of member governments, which are generally inclined to place domestic considerations ahead of regional ones. Rather than continuing to frustrate the people, there is an easy way out for the political directorate. Put the issue of whether CARICOM remains relevant to the people in a referendum in each member state and let them decide. There will then be no doubt as to what are the wishes of the people.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to do precisely that in relation to Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union (EU) which provided the theoretical model for CARICOM integration. The referendum is scheduled for Thursday, June 23.
It would be a prudent step if the governments of CARICOM were to commit to following Britain’s example. The sooner they do so, the better. Decisive action on the future direction of CARICOM should no longer be delayed.