Caricom facing the new year’s world

It would be hard to deny a certain sense of pessimism prevailing in much of our Caricom region as we move into another year of the new millennium. As has been widely observed, apart from perhaps Guyana and Suriname, recent economic growth figures have not been particularly impressive. And many of our leading countries, to name only Jamaica and Barbados among the MDCs, give a sense of persistent lagging as far as economic recovery is concerned, in the face of continuing recession since the second half of the last decade in many of the economic spheres  of the world with which we have, historically, been most involved.

In terms of developments in the regional integration movement, as recently as November of last year one of its longtime main protagonists, Sir Shridath Ramphal, felt moved to say in neighbouring Suriname, that “twenty-three years after the Grand Anse Declaration, no decisive action has been taken to realize the Caricom dream.” And this, in part no doubt, will probably have induced Secretary-General Irwin La Rocque to indicate in December that the restructuring of the Caricom Secretariat will be one of the priority areas for 2013, stressing that there was need for some transformation to make the secretariat and the community more effective.

Cynics will ask what else is new, some believing that the sense of a regional integration movement being in the doldrums is pre-eminently the result of non-action by the member states rather than their organization. They will wonder whether, faced with current intense difficulties at home, member governments will really find the will to do any better than they have done in the last few years.

Yet, given the diversity of changes going on worldwide, both at the level of politics and economics, our governments must have a strong sense that there will hardly be any positive outreach to them by the states with which they have traditionally been involved. And it is indeed interesting that one of our columnists, David Jessop, deeply concerned with European-Caribbean affairs, has felt it necessary to perhaps dampen any enthusiasm that we might have been developing about the recently agreed Joint Caribbean-EU Partnership Strategy, in expressing the view that the strategy “may be coming into force when both the region and Europe have less interest and less ability to implement it.”

With regard to the areas in which there are more positive economic developments, and efforts at strategic reorganization – whether in Asia or Latin America – there is still no indication in the diplomacy of our region that we will probably be no more than  just one of series of petitioners, either for direct economic assistance or favourable openings vis-à-vis our trading endeavours, difficult as the latter may well be.

It is perhaps this latter kind of sentiment that induced Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, as current Chairperson of Caricom, to suggest before an audience of colleagues at the ACP Heads Conference in December, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, that there is a need to “find new innovative ways to ensure the continued relevance for our ACP” in the context of strengthening relationships between the ACP and other poles that have been emerging.

Obviously, the Caricom leadership will be increasingly well aware that in the midst of new political and economic configurations developing near to us, as in Latin America, the increasing interest of that area, and in particular Brazil, to ensure the openness of the Chinese and African markets, as well as in the context of China’s thrust into the African continent in search of raw materials and space for its exports, the ‘C’ in the ACP could well find itself squeezed out, as the African states go their own ways.

So the statements of Caricom, through its Chairperson, and of David Jessop, Director of the Caribbean Council in Britain, would appear to have been hinting that there is an urgent need for extending our diplomacy as a regional grouping – in addition to the individual forays that particular states may feel it necessary to take, from a national perspective, from time to time. In Dr Anthony’s words, while “we should always be seeking to find innovative ways to ensure the continued relevance of our ACP,” it is necessary to “strengthen relationships between the ACP and the other poles that are emerging.”

Are our Caribbean leaderships up to this, especially if, as the smallest grouping in the ACP, we would have to make a special institutional effort to ensure effective participation? Will the restructuring of the Caricom Secretariat involve ensuring the appropriate arrangements for this? Or will our heads, when faced with the financial implications, hesitate to, as we are inclined to say, ‘put our money where our mouth is?’ Secretary- General La Rocque will have to summon all his fortitude to ensure that the necessary restructurings meet the demands that engagement with the emerging poles of the international community will place on us.

Our governments, in that context, might well ponder both the policy, and institutional implications of the observation of Sir Shridath in Suriname, that Caribbean integration and unity are unachievable if regionalism is not the starting point in every individual government’s agenda. Will our heads, loaded down with national economic policy preoccupations, be up to taking on the challenge implicit in this view?

We wait to see, while bearing in mind the larger issues with which the international community is concerned, and which, like climate change, to take one example, are also going to have a significant bearing on our economic futures.

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