On Monday evening, for a brief while, Bridgetown turned its attention to an important event in neighbouring Castries where the official opening of the 65th Meeting of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Authority was being held.
Of significance was the fact that Prime Minister Mia Mottley was rubbing shoulders with her colleague heads of the ten-member grouping, and delivering a timely message to the people of the sub-region.
Her words were clear and simple: Enough of the talk about regional integration; now is the time for action and Barbados is opening its doors to deepen political and economic ties with its neighbours in the Eastern Caribbean.
Said Mottley, who revealed that it was in St Lucia where she attended her first political meeting as a young child: “Much of what we face is common; the challenges that have confronted us are similar, but in spite of the cooperation between our people . . . we have not yet seen the level of inter-governmental cooperation that matches that which our people have been engaged in at a personal level and at the level of our private sector.”
Such sentiments have long been expressed up and down this region since Adam was a lad.
Most would agree that regional integration has long been a lived reality among the ordinary men and women who call this Caribbean home.
We mix, inter-marry, share green fig and salt fish, oil-down, and cou-cou and flying fish, sing our songs, support the West Indies cricket team; celebrate our athletes; and sit in classes together at the University of the West Indies.
The stumbling blocks have been at the level of the political directorate who tout the values of regional integration at their annual meetings but on home turf hold back on the implementation of the very mechanisms needed to drive the process.
Thankfully, the integration experiment in the Eastern Caribbean has been much more inspiring.
Nationals have been benefiting from hassle-free travel across the sub-region, a strong Eastern Caribbean dollar, greater access to jobs and more.
Against the backdrop of such developments and the stark reality that small island developing states cannot stand on their own in a brutal global economy, Prime Minister Mottley has committed to breaking down barriers between Barbados and the OECS.
She has cited the vexing issue of in transit passengers from across the sub region not being able to venture outside the Grantley Adams International Airport, the long promised inter-island ferry and, of course, the future of LIAT, to name a few.
A reasonable start indeed.
While it would be foolhardy to expect that our new, energetic Prime Minister will wave a magic wand to set regional integration aright, at the very least we are satisfied that this island’s chief public servant has signalled that Barbados intends to be a key player at the table, especially since in recent years the message of unity has been waning at the regional level.
Mottley assured: “My people in Barbados stand ready to engage in this conversation. What the modalities will be ultimately will be determined by our conversation and by our flexibility. We are family and as family we must be prepared to prioritize discussions among ourselves on the things that matter most,” she said.
There is absolutely no reason why Barbados shouldn’t jump in with both feet to deepen ties with its neighbours next door.
Apart from our proximity, common culture and history, the Eastern Caribbean is the only region with which Barbados enjoys a trade surplus.
Like Barbados, OECS economies are grappling to get over their high indebtedness and stay on a growth path.
Experts have long assured us that integration is key to our future success.
Opening our doors to OECS nationals can boost our tourism fortunes and lead to the creation of new markets for goods and services. We can also attract and share labour and skills as never before.
Furthermore, combining our best brains, pooling our scarce resources, and achieving economies of scales can help our countries achieve macro-economic stability to kick-start growth.
But talk is cheap, and it’s the action that Mottley has called for that is required. We can only hope that like with the IMF talks, Mottley “got this”.