Eleven years since the start of implementation on January 1, 2006, where does the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) precisely stand today in terms of overall progress towards the eventual objective of establishing a CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME)?
This question is highly relevant, considering the increasingly complex economic challenges which continue to affect countries of the 15-member regional bloc as a result of changes at the global level. Readers may recall that at the time of its launch, CSME was pretty much couched in official language as a sort of panacea to various obstacles standing in the way of regional development.
For example, through facilitating a greater intra-regional flow of investment and skills, CSME was touted as a solution to the longstanding lack of economies of scale at the national level that has undermined the efficiency of competitiveness of regional industry. In global negotiations, CSME was also supposed to provide CARICOM with “a stronger voice in the global community”, to quote the words of a promotional jingle that was frequently heard on local radio stations.
It is fair to say, based solely on observation, that CSME somehow seems to have fallen off the regional radar screen. It hardly receives mention in public discourse these days, and the Barbados-based CSME Unit responsible for overseeing implementation, seems to have gone largely silent. For various reasons, public enthusiasm also seems to have waned.
When CARICOM heads of government met in Guyana in February this year for their 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting, incoming CARICOM chairman and the meeting’s host, President David Granger of Guyana, told the opening session that if the region were “to escape the hazard of economic emasculation in today’s global environment, [it] must expedite the full implementation of the CSME”.
“The CSME must not be allowed to become a victim of equivocation and procrastination,” he said. CSME did come up for review at the meeting. However, the communiqué issued afterwards did note there had been “significant progress in implementation” covering, among other things, “legal and institutional measures and mechanisms to support the free movement of goods, services, skills, and cross-border establishment of businesses”.
What does this mean in simple, everyday, layman’s language that a fish vendor in Bridgetown or a banana farmer in Castries could readily understand?
We note that at the same meeting concern was expressed by the heads of government that some of their previous decisions had not been complied with and that they had agreed that necessary action would be taken to effect compliance.
The communiqué also identified “other impediments to furthering the CSME, including the need for the organs and bodies to meet and for effective consultative mechanisms, as well as capacity constraints at the national level”. CSME will come up for further review by CARICOM heads of government when they meet in July at their regular annual summit.
In the meantime, the central message of a new World Bank report hopefully will serve to reignite interest in the regional integration project at the people level and also to refocus attention at the official governmental level on the need for speedier implementation of CSME to realize promised benefits. The report argues that deeper economic integration, which is what CSME is about, would make the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean more competitive in international markets and boost long-term growth.
Better Neighbors: Toward a Renewal of Economic Integration in Latin America, as the report is entitled, argues that a renewed integration strategy that takes advantage of the complementarities between regional and global economic integration can contribute to growth with stability, noting this was particularly relevant for a region which was coming out of recession and looking to reignite the spark of economic growth.
“In today’s world, regional economic integration offers a way forward to reactivate the economic growth needed for reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity,” said Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “A more robust intra-regional integration will make us more competitive in the global arena. Effective integration will require investment in infrastructure, connectivity and logistics, which will offer an additional boost in economic growth.”
At a global level, Brexit, through which the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, represented a setback for the idea of regional integration. However, as the subsequent political turmoil within the UK has clearly shown, integration, despite its flaws, is a far better option than disintegration. May the Caribbean heed this important message, which has been reaffirmed by the World Bank report, and bring a renewed sense of purpose to advancing the regional integration project!