By Sir Ronald Sanders
So far in this attempt to answer the question, “Has CARICOM reached its limits of regional integration”, it has been established that, after almost 50 years, the regional project has failed to deliver the commitments expected from the 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas and its Revision in 2001.
In summary, while the 2001 revision of the CARICOM Treaty laid the framework for a single economic space (the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), the attempts at regional integration have made very little progress. Not even a Custom Union, let alone a Common Market has been established.
The ‘Sovereignty’ of individual states continues to be the dominant characteristic of decision-making, resulting in inadequate or no implementation of regional decisions. The Secretariat, having started off brilliantly under William Demas and Alister McIntyre (two widely respected Caribbean figures), and with enthusiastic support from the then member governments, has drifted into paralysis and bureaucratic management, in addition to being poorly funded.
Additionally, CARICOM expanded prematurely instead of focussing on deepening its integration. The admission of Haiti in 2002 has caused problems for trade and economic integration – one that is unlikely to be solved in the foreseeable future. Further, successive governments of Haiti have breached the 1997 CARICOM Charter of Civil Society in relation to free and fair elections, good governance, and civil and political rights. The Bahamas is not a member of the common market aspects of CARICOM. While it has participated beneficially in some aspects of “functional cooperation”, its governments have been inconsistent in the coordination of foreign policy with other CARICOM states.
Jamaica has continuously questioned the benefits of its own participation in CARICOM, focusing issues on its trade with Trinidad and Tobago only and ignoring the fact that it enjoys a large trade surplus with all other CARICOM states, especially those that are also members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Also depending on which political party holds office, Jamaican governments have chosen to do very little coordination of its foreign policy positions.
The 2017 Jamaica Commission, headed by former prime minister, Bruce Golding, which reviewed Jamaica’s relations with CARICOM, recommended that, if fundamental changes were not made to CARICOM’s processes, Jamaica should “withdraw from the CSME” but retain membership “similar to that of The Bahamas”. The latter event would put Jamaica in the same semi-detached position as The Bahamas, weakening the Organization even more. Note should be taken, however, that there were many valid observations and remarks in the Golding Report, regarding reform of CARICOM, especially regarding implementation of its decisions.
In 2003, fourteen years before the Golding report, another Jamaican prime minister, P.J. Patterson, a committed regionalist, proposed to a CARICOM heads of government meeting, a mechanism to facilitate the deepening of the regional integration. Seemingly convinced, the leaders adopted “The Rose Hall Declaration”. However, even then, there were signs of reticence and reluctance with one prime minister insisting on accepting the Rose Hall Declaration “in principle”, not in practice. The Declaration was never executed.
This caused Sir Shridath Ramphal, the elder Caribbean Statesman who chaired the 1992 West Indian Commission, to observe, in 2014, that nothing came of the Declaration because it offered “a regionalism which, for all its checks and balances against supra-nationality, was still too much for the cloistered immaturity of a political culture fixated by the obsessive compulsions of local control”. Sir Shridath also remarked with poignant resonance today, that had regional leaders implemented the mechanism proposed by P.J. Patterson, “many of our countries would not be experiencing the extent of the terrible economic misfortune and uncertainty they now endure”.
Realistically, the challenges faced by CARICOM countries, including Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname with their present-day riches of oil and gas, is that none of them, individually, enjoys sustainable economic independence. Each of them is dependent on aid for social and economic development and security in all its dimensions. Consequently, this dependence deprives each of them of genuine political independence. As the late prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Lester Bird, put it in 1992, “No small state, severely limited in its natural, human and financial resources, can operate as if it were a large country [-] It is an unrealistic approach to problem-solving and decision-making in a world which has embraced economic alliances, merges and the creation of single regional markets as ways to survive”.
Given all this, CARICOM has not reached its limits of regional integration; indeed, CARICOM has barely scratched the surface of the economic and political benefits of integration.
The region’s current leaders must navigate their countries through the maelstrom of high debt, continuing poor terms of trade, inadequate access to concessional financing for development, imported high costs for food and energy, inadequate technological infrastructure and the impact of Climate Change. While some of them, with oil and gas especially, may weather this storm for now, the underlying weaknesses of individual small economies will persist. A committed approach to the deepening of regional integration with effective machinery for implementation is the only answer.
The adherence to a “Caribbean Community of Sovereign States” is unlikely to change. But its leaders should, at least recognize that “sovereignty” is only beneficial if it has force in dealing with an international community. Many of the member states of the international community are fed-up with the constant demands on their taxpayers’ money from individual small and powerless states. They have themselves pursued integration as their salvation as for instance, in the European Union, the federation of the United States of America, the federation of Canada, the Federation of Mexico and the federation of Brazil.
While Federation is a contemplation now too imbued with fear, at least deeper integration must be high on the priorities and commitment of leaders as the 60th anniversary of CARICOM approaches. Leaders might usefully consider adapting one of the Golding Commission’s recommendations, “to appoint an oversight body of three to five eminent CARICOM nationals to review CARICOM’s performance and, in particular, the compliance of member states…”. The review could be considered in July 2023 and delivered to the public. There is no shortage of solid, authoritative work that would aid the review.
As Dr Eric Williams, a renowned Caribbean historian, who led his country, Trinidad and Tobago, to independence in the wake of the break-up of the West Indies Federation, advised with compelling prescience in 1962: “Separation and fragmentation were the policy of colonialism and rival colonialisms. Association and integration must be the policy of independence”.