GUEST OPINION CARICOM/CSME: The Persisting Implementation Question

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By Elizabeth Morgan

On July 1, Guyana and possibly a few other Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) commemorated CARICOM Day marking the signing on July 4, 1973 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas creating the Caribbean Community and Common Market.

It seems the day is usually marked on the first Monday in July. Member States decided that this day should be commemorated to recall the creation of CARICOM and provide an opportunity for public education and reflection on achievements, challenges and the way forward.

The CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government is customarily convened to coincide with the actual signing date. This year, the 40th Conference of Heads of Government was held in St. Lucia, July 3-5.

The commemoration of CARICOM Day across the region, or lack of it, illustrates the general difficulty with implementation. The decision was taken, but only a few member states and regional institutions actually implement it demonstrating their commitment to the Community which they founded.

This week’s 40th Conference of Heads focused on the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). You will recall that Jamaica’s Golding Report, the 2017 Report of the Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Framework, led the Community to reflect on the protracted and unbalanced implementation of the CSME at the 39th Heads Conference held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, 4-6 July 2018.

CSME implementation has been in progress since the Revised Treaty of Chaguramas was adopted in 2002, 17 years ago. Arising from the Montego Bay Conference, a Special Heads Meeting was convened in December 2018 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, focusing specifically on the CSME and resulting in the adoption of the St. Ann Declaration.

The 30th Intersessional Meeting of the CARICOM Heads held in St. Kitts/Nevis in February 2019 addressed progress in CSME implementation.

The CARICOM Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) has responsibility for implementing the CSME. The 48th COTED Meeting was held in Georgetown, Guyana, April 29-30, and, as expected, CSME implementation was a key agenda item.

On this, I took particular note of the opening remarks made by the CARICOM Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque. I quote from these remarks as follows:

“In a little over two months our Heads of Government will be expecting to receive a report card that indicates that the mandates laid out last July in Montego Bay; in Port-of-Spain last December; and in Frigate Bay last February have been fulfilled. Priorities were identified by the Leaders and an Implementation Plan agreed upon.

“Member States recommitted fully to the effective implementation of the CSME and agreed to the timelines – short, medium and long-term – set by the Plan. This [COTED] Meeting presents an opportunity to review the actions taken by Member States to meet the timelines so that there could be an assessment of our progress.

“Implementation cannot be a shifting target. We cannot come to meeting after meeting and agree to a Plan and not carry forward the work. An urgency to complete the agreed measures and make the CSME a lived reality for our citizens, has been the hallmark of the recent discussions among our Heads of Government.  As the Council tasked under the Revised Treaty to ‘promote the development and oversee the operation of the CSME’ you have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that we accomplish the goals in that regard.”

The Secretary General was clear; Member States must demonstrate their commitment to implementing the CSME by their actions. He reminded the Ministers of the challenges currently existing globally which CARICOM’s small economies must face head on.

It seems that Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, who has responsibility for the CSME, is committed to making progress. She has been endeavouring to have action taken on CSME decisions both at the national and regional levels.

The Prime Minister has particular interest in engaging with the regional private sector and labour representatives as set out in the St. Ann Declaration. The Caribbean Congress of Labour already exists. The challenge is organising the regional private sector. PM Mottley has met with sector representatives to advance engagement and encourage organization.

The Network of Caribbean Chambers of Commerce (CARICHAM) was formed in April. The Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) still exists in some form. There are a number of product specific regional private sector organizations.

The Caribbean Business Council (CBC), which could be an umbrella body, still remains a work in progress after 13 years. The St. Ann Declaration envisages a private sector body as an associate institution of CARICOM and a key player in the CSME. The onus is on the regional private sector to find an acceptable structure from which to engage with CARICOM and in other regional and international trade matters.

I am hoping the performance appraisal for the CSME to be presented to CARICOM Heads in St. Lucia will demonstrate through action a genuine commitment to implementation and problem-solving among CARICOM Heads and Ministers, particularly those in the CSME.

I await the Communique. Maybe next year, CARICOM Day will be marked by all member states signalling their renewed commitment to the Community and implementation of their decisions.

(Elizabeth Morgan, who writes for CMC, is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics).

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