CARICOM at Forty: Many More Mountains to Move
"CARICOM is in crisis". This unequivocal statement is not the assessment of a fanciful editorial writer; it is actually the first sentence of the executive summary of a report produced by a consultant firm hired by no other than the heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The paper is titled Turing around CARICOM: Proposals to Restructure the Secretariat. It was produced in January 2012, just 18 months ago, so the appraisement contained therein is still very relevant. Seriously, Richard Stoneman, Duke Pollard and Hugo Inniss of Landell Mills Ltd., a British development consultancy firm, predicted that "CARICOM could expire slowly over the next few years as stakeholders begin to vote with their feet"; unless action is taken to rectify the situation. The consultants warned further: "The crisis is sufficiently severe to put CARICOM's very existence in question."
There are three major reasons for that dour assessment from Landell Mills: Caribbean people are frustrated with the slow pace of implementing of CARICOM's plans and programmes; the structure and operation of the organisation has been weakened and CARICOM is paying the price for the continuing economic retrenchment that began in 2008.
Consequently, as the heads of governments of the 15-member group headed home over the weekend at the end of their 34th summit held in Port of Spain, we hope they spared a thought for the future of the organisation that promised so much when it was formed 40 years ago, and apparently, has delivered so little.
One of the major failures of CARICOM has been its inability to influence regional governments to establish a suitable regional carrier. At last week's meeting in Trinidad leaders were expected to chastise Trinidad's Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar for her flagrant infringement of the Treaty of Chaguaramas by providing subsidies to Caribbean Airlines, Trinidad's national carrier, to the disadvantage of LIAT, the island-hopping airline owned by three members of the Organisation of Caribbean States (OECS) and Barbados. On the issue of the region's failure to establish that single regional carrier, even Irwin LaRocque, the newly appointed Secretary General of CARICOM, is perplexed. "It defies logic," he reportedly told a journalist adding that the problem is unlikely to go away soon.
Another of CARICOM's big blunders is the organisation's failure to monitor and regulate intra-regional trade. At the moment trade is at the core of a conflict between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago; hence, no one can blame, Ronald Mason, a Jamaican attorney-at-law, for wanting to "Kick CARICOM to the Kerb". That is the title of two biting anti- CARICOM articles recently published by the Gleaner, one of Jamaica's major newspapers.
Additionally, the Jamaica Observer, in an editorial bemoaned the fact that intra-regional trade had grown in every trade block in the world except CARICOM; the paper questioned whether CARICOM would "remain the bloc that the builders reject."
A large number of Jamaicans, therefore, no longer want their country to be part of Caribbean Community and even the usually staid Gleaner has advised that "given the deepening anti-CARICOM sentiment in this country - including among many in Mrs Simpson Miller's party - we increasingly question whether Jamaica wants a place in the community and ought not to seek its destiny elsewhere".
Certainly, Jamaicans should complain about the balance of trade between their country and Trinidad. It is alarming. Sir Ron Sanders, in an article entitled No need for a Trade War between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, revealed that Trinidad is indeed the most outstanding beneficiary of intra-CARICOM trade. "For example", he wrote, "the value of its exports to CARICOM in 2011 was US$2 billion while the value of its CARICOM imports was US$140.9 million. By the same token, in that same year, Jamaica was the biggest market for CARICOM with imports valued at US$1 billion."
Jamaicans are also concerned about the apparently biased implementation of the purported free movement of people of the Caribbean as part of the Revised Treaty. That country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has reported that 271 Jamaicans were deported from CARICOM states in 2012 and 794 were refused entry. The top five countries from which Jamaicans were deported are Curacao, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bahamas and Antigua. But Jamaica deported only 26 Caribbean nationals during that period.
In addition to these limitations of the integration movement, many critics have blasted the region's reluctance, especially of Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica to become full-fledged members of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Although these countries subscribe to the original jurisdiction of the CCJ, in which the Court hears cases in relation to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), they question whether they should leave the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and adopt the CCJ as their final appellate court.
Our view is that CARICOM has failed to live up to expectations because of the lack of decisive leadership and vision of most Caribbean leaders. Over the past 40 years, heads of governments have pandered to local politics rather than lead their countries towards the accomplishment of the major goals of CARICOM. They conveniently ignore the fact that, given the competiveness of an increasingly globalised world, as a group the region may survive, but alone, each country will perish.