By Elizabeth Morgan
My previous article on the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) addressed the lackadaisical attitude to implementation of decisions which persist in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
In the Communique of the 40th Heads of Government Conference, St. Lucia, July 3-5, Heads, in their appraisal of CSME implementation, “expressed their concern at the slow pace and low level of implementation of the CSME and lack of urgency exhibited by some Member States in enacting the necessary legislation and putting in place the administrative measures for implementation.”
Thus, it seems to me that the overall grade which the region received in the CSME performance appraisal was about “C”.
In their assessment, the Heads recognised that there were factors contributing to the poor performance. Capacity constraints among Member States were identified. They agreed that more support should be provided to national CSME Focal Points and acknowledged the importance of timely reporting and public education and outreach. It was also reported that there was progress in establishing a CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO).
It is my view that to improve the CSME implementation grade moving it to B or A, the Heads themselves have to give clear instructions to their national Cabinets that CSME implementation is a priority and should be mainstreamed into national development policies, plans and programmes.
Financial and human resources have to be provided recognising that the CSME contributes to national development. The political directorate has to acknowledge that CSME implementation positions the region not only to engage in intra-regional trade, but also in trade and other economic activities with the world in these challenging times. Caribbean small economies are particularly vulnerable to natural and economic disasters and need to cooperate. This is where the report of the CARICOM Commission on the Economy could make a useful contribution regarding the economic strategy.
The Heads themselves have to signal their own commitment to CSME implementation and problem-solving. There are mixed messages coming from the political directorate. At CARICOM meetings, the message is support for regional integration and, at home, it is one of indifference with national interests taking precedence.
In engagements with third countries, even the region’s trade and economic interests can be differed on the basis that politicians are elected to serve their national interest. The CARICOM Heads, if they genuinely support regional integration, need to provide the leadership required to demonstrate that the national and regional agendas converge in a common interest.
I mentioned in a previous article that Heads should show their regional commitment by the importance they attach to their quasi-Cabinet assignments. CSME implementation does not only rest with the Prime Minister of Barbados. Other Heads of Government have CSME responsibilities in their Quasi-Cabinet portfolios, for example:
Antigua and Barbuda – Trade in Services; Dominica – Labour including CSME Movement of Skilled Persons; Grenada – Science and Technology including Information and Communications; Guyana – Agriculture; Jamaica – External Trade Negotiations; St. Lucia – Sustainable Development and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – Transportation
The Bahamas, though not in the CSME, as a CARICOM member, has responsibility for Tourism.
CSME implementation also requires Community bodies, such as the Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP) and the Legal Affairs Committee (LAC), to meet regularly with attendance of a critical mass of Ministers and Attorneys General to facilitate decision-making.
The participation of the private sector is critical thus progress on CPSO is welcomed. Without the commitment from the political leaders, the private sector and other parts of civil society, including academia and the media, then the CSME will make little progress, the grade will not improve, and as the Trinidadians say, the region will continue “spinning top in mud”, or as the headline recently declared “revving with the handbrake up”. CARICOM leaders need to release the handbrake in the common national and regional interest.
(Elizabeth Morgan, who writes for CMC, is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics).