BY RONALD SANDERS

(The author is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, and Massey College, University of Toronto. Opinions expressed are entirely his own)

I am indebted for the title of this commentary to the Honorable Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, who was and remains one of the most eminent political minds in the Caribbean and beyond.

Mr. Ronald Sanders

Mr. Golding hosts a weekly serious talk show on radio in Jamaica called “Jamaica Live”. On July 25, he invited me to be one of the speakers on the theme “Has CARICOM reached the limits of regional integration”?

Sponsored | The article continues below

The former Jamaican Prime Minister had good reason to ask the question. On July 4 next year, it will be 50 years since the Heads of Government of the four largest (and independent) Caribbean countries signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas (the CARICOM Treaty) which brought into force the Community and the Caribbean Common Market on August 1, 1973 – at least, on paper. Eight other Caribbean countries, which had been members of a smaller grouping, CARIFTA, which had existed since 1968, joined CARICOM a few months later.

It was not unreasonable to expect that the Treaty, which provided for the integration of 12 Caribbean countries, would have produced a much better and deeper integrated region than the one that now exists, almost 50 years later. However, while CARICOM has had its first momentum, creating beneficial institutions, such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and making some progress in the free trade of goods and services, the hallmark of its history is short periods of activity followed by long periods of inaction. The result is a suspension of trust and faith in the CARICOM project by many sectors of Caribbean society and the people at large.

Despite the lack of real progress in establishing a common market – not even towards becoming a customs union – in July 2001, CARICOM leaders revised the CARICOM treaty. A customs union would have been an arrangement by member states to eliminate trade barriers, reduce or abolish customs duties, and eliminate quotas. In a common market, states would have adopted a common external tariff on goods entering their region from outside; allowed free trade in goods and services and allowed free movement of labor and capital between them.

The 2001 Revised Treaty provided the means (not the means) to establish a Single Market and Economy (CSME). This revision of the treaty has been hailed by the private sector as offering the opportunity for genuine free trade in goods and services; for the cross-border establishment of companies; and for the free movement of labour. In short, for the creation of a single economic space. The prospect of free movement of people and a single currency has also tickled the appetite of CARICOM residents to travel freely throughout the region.

In 2011, the CSME was effectively put on hold by CARICOM Heads of Government. At the time, few leaders resisted this characterization. However, little progress has been made between 2011 and today in advancing the CSME. So much so that in May 2022, a representative group of CARICOM leaders, meeting in Guyana for an Agricultural Investment Forum, declared that “trade barriers, particularly non-tariff barriers, are one of the major obstacles to the development of the regional market for agricultural products, and that the removal of these barriers requires political consensus and determination”. The fact is that even trade barriers, in particular non-tariff barriers, have not yet been overcome.

In comparison, other regions that initiated integration efforts, either at the same time or after CARICOM, have come a long way. The European Union (EU) is the most telling example. It started in earnest eight months before CARICOM in 1973 and quickly expanded, under strict criteria, to 28 member states, until Britain left in January 2020. But not only did the EU expand its membership, with new candidates still pending, it established a single motto; broke down border barriers, allowing a common passport and the free movement of people; established a single trade mechanism; and a Commission empowered to initiate and make decisions for all countries collectively in a wide range of areas.

As my friend and fellow commentator on Caribbean affairs, David Jessop, said recently in his assessment of CARICOM and regional economic cooperation, “Elsewhere in the world, integration mechanisms have updated their governance, relinquished certain aspects of national sovereignty, established procedures that ensure delivery, created measures that ensure accountability, transparency, and core funding, and have delegated executive powers to enable results.”

CARICOM, on the other hand, has dragged on, sometimes coming to a complete halt, burdened by inadequate or non-existent implementation of decisions, mistrust among leaders, frustration in the private sector, failure to establish binding rules and institutional decline, including a weak and underfunded Secretariat. .

It is not as if CARICOM’s failures to achieve its many important goals and meet many popular and practical expectations have not been carefully and scrupulously examined by some of the best thinkers in political, economic, financial and social development. of the region and beyond.

In 1992, at the request of all CARICOM governments, the West India Commission produced a seminal work, “Time for Action”. Its recommendations to governments included the creation of a Caribbean Commission (like the European Commission), accountable to heads of government but empowered to initiate ideas and implement the decisions assigned to it. While many recommendations were accepted, the main ones on governance structures, including the Caribbean Commission, came to nothing.

In 2016, the Jamaican government appointed Bruce Golding to lead a commission to “review Jamaica’s relationship with CARICOM”. The Commission recommended, among other things, that explicit provisions be included in the CARICOM Treaty obliging governments to give effect to their rights and obligations under the treaty and to implement decisions made by Heads of Government in a period of at least six months. Again, little attention was given to the Commission’s full report, which deserved serious consideration.

In March 2021, a CARICOM commission on the economy revived many ideas, including the suggestion that member states, interested in advancing the integration project, should proceed, leaving the door open for others to let them join at their own pace. This report, too, did not generate the action that its authors might have hoped for.

Many of CARICOM’s high ideals remain unfulfilled as it approaches its 50th anniversary. But has it reached its limits of regional integration? This question will be explored further next week.

Previous answers and comments: www.sirronaldsanders.com