Another Manning Initiative

Last week Thursday, Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago used the opportunity of an official visit by the new Prime Minister of Grenada, Tillman Thomas, to invite the leaders of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines to join them for discussions on deeper integration among those four countries.

The Foreign Ministers of Barbados and Guyana, the Caricom Secretary General and the Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) also attended as observers.

According to the Joint Communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting on August 14 in Port of Spain, the leaders of Trinidad and Tobago and the three Windward Islands focused their discussions on “collaboration towards the Achievement of a Single Market and Economy and Political Integration and Regional Air Transportation.”

On Wednesday, Mr Manning and Mr Thomas visited Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis to brief their counterparts on the initiative and to encourage them to get on board. Talks with Dominica and Montserrat were also imminent at the time of writing.

It is not however clear from the language of the communiqué whether the “Single Market and Economy” to which it refers is the same as the primary but much delayed objective of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). The relevant text of the communiqué reads:

“Having taken note of the difficulties which have arisen in regard to progress towards the establishment of the CARICOM [sic] and the decision of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to proceed to establish an Economic Union among themselves by 2009, the Prime Ministers of Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago signed a Joint Declaration to establish a framework for closer cooperation towards the achievement of the single economy by 2011 and appropriate political integration by 2013.

“The Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers also resolved that no initiative associated with the implementation of this Joint Declaration would undermine the Single Market or economic cohesion established by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

“Participation in this framework is open to all Member States of the Caribbean Community wishing to commit to the achievement of the single economy and appropriate political integration within indicative timeframes.”

Regrettably, the joint declaration has not been released into the public domain and so it remains unclear which “single economy” is being pursued.

But it is instructive to note that the prime ministers and (our emphasis) the foreign ministers felt it necessary to signal that this initiative should not be viewed as detrimental to the legal foundations of Caricom or its main goal. Obviously, the Foreign Ministers of Barbados and Guyana were not party to the initiative, which effectively suggests that Trinidad and Tobago would be entering into a closer relationship with the OECS. Thus the temptation to infer that this initiative points to a “single economy” within the CSME is compelling.

But how practical is this twin-track approach? What does it mean for the CSME itself? And what exactly is meant by “appropriate [our emphasis again] political integration”? Presumably, the former OECS Director General and ex-Prime Minister of St Lucia, Professor Vaughan Lewis and former Trinidad and Tobago diplomat, Dr Cuthbert Joseph, who have been commissioned to prepare a study by the end of 2008, will provide comprehensible explanations and concrete and transparent recommendations on the way forward.

If this is an initiative by Mr Manning to advance the stuttering regional integration process by providing the space for those who are willing and able to move more quickly in concert with each other, then it is but the latest example of variable geometry as it is being applied to the Caricom process.

However, Jamaica has already signalled its concern in a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister: “The decision of some CARICOM countries to establish a political union has implications for the structure and, indeed, the future of CARICOM. The Government of Jamaica will request that the issue be brought for discussions at the highest level of CARICOM. Jamaica’s position will be evaluated based on those discussions.”

And even though Jamaica has never been a strong advocate of political union, and the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas allows for countries to proceed at their own pace, it remains to be seen whether the path being advocated by Mr Manning will actually quicken the pace of integration or instead, prove to be more divisive than unifying.

This is not a new approach by Mr Manning. One can recall Trinidad and Tobago’s attempt (along with Jamaica, it should be noted) to fast-track its qualification for NAFTA parity with the United States in the early 1990s, leaving the other Caricom members to play catch up. The fact that it never happened is perhaps immaterial, for Trinidad and Tobago, mainly because of its oil wealth and relatively advanced state of industrialization, has always regarded itself as being in a privileged position to lead the community as the region’s economic powerhouse. Now it appears that Mr Manning, following the departure of Jamaica’s PJ Patterson from the political scene, sees himself as the natural leader of the community. He is indeed Caricom’s senior head of government, but he will have much to do to dispel suspicions of Trinidad and Tobago hegemony, which do not sit well with many in the region.

Some will also recall the 1992 “Manning Initiative,” which proposed a federation of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Guyana. This did not go anywhere as the concept was never satisfactorily fleshed out nor explained, at least not in public.

Mr Manning must know this and he should therefore seek to avoid repeating the mistakes of the previous initiative, especially as there is a more vexing question. Is it the intention of Mr Manning and his OECS colleagues  to take this initiative to the peoples of their countries? Note that the communiqué says that the declaration is “a statement of intent, which is subject to ratification by the respective Cabinets.” But shouldn’t such a far-reaching intention, with all the implications for regional integration and the ceding of national sovereignty, be subject to ratification by national Parliaments and more critically, the approval of the people?

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