Who are our allies now?

The Cariforum’s signing of an Economic Partnership with the European Union, hesitant as some Caricom member states might have been, marked a recognition on our part that much of our relations with the United Kingdom would henceforth proceed in terms of an engagement with that integration movement. On the European side, their persistence in finding solutions to the economic problems of Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal also mark their recognition of the implications of their interdependence in engaging with problems arising from the process of economic globalisation. And France and Britain’s recent agreement to take a virtually joint approach in dealing with international security problems takes that sense of necessity for integrated approaches to facing the world from the realm of economics into that of geopolitics.

These orientations on the part of the EU imply what should be an acceptance, on our part, of the ending of the special relationship in the new form that states of the Caricom thought would come into existence with our signing of the Lome Convention in 1975. And in a similar fashion, events following our acceptance in 1983 of the United States’ offer of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, and then the Caribbean Basin Trade and Production Act of 2000, suggest that that engagement with the US is temporary, and that we will have to fall in line with their view that free trade area relationships, hardly differentiated in any way in relation to this or that country or region, and it will henceforth be the order of the day.

Some countries in our wider Caribbean sub-region have long ago recognized this, and proceeded to reorganize their relationships with major powers accordingly. The Dominican Republic quickly perceived this with the entry of Spain and Portugal into the European Community, and proceeded to take advantage of it to ensure that, in relation to the EC/EU, it would be placed in a position of equality of access and receipt of benefits vis-à-vis the Caricom states. Similarly, as soon as the Dominican Republic recognized that the Central Americans states, part of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, were quickly receptive to the US offer of a free trade area, that country proceeded to negotiate access to the US-Central America Free Trade Area. In our part of the Caribbean Basin we, as early victims of Canada’s access to the NAFTA, would appear to be taking our measured time to complete the inevitable reorganization of our trade and production relationships with the US and Canada.

But countries in our Caricom with special geographical or economic relationships with nearby states have, periodically proceeded ahead of the pack, so to speak, to explore new relationships implicit in these changing economic and political times. It was indeed Trinidad & Tobago which, given its natural gas in particular, and perceiving limits to trading within Caricom, pushed us into pursuing FTA’s with the Dominican Republic and the Central Americans. And Belize has felt that it has had no other course than to participate in the Central American integration system, and to explore the potential for ties with Mexico. This is, of course, a country which is an informal, guarantor of Belize’s territorial integrity in the face of Guatemalan claims.

Now the visit of President Lula to Guyana has linked the offer of Brazil to advance the infrastructural development of this country, including infrastructural development that physically links the two countries, so that Guyana should be permitted to pursue its “continental destiny.” While some may fear the implications of such a statement, others will feel that it reflects a potential reality of Guyana’s location, and perhaps can permit Caricom states to themselves reflect on the place of the Latin American countries in the development of their own economies.

But others will ponder the potential relationship between economic integration and the patterns of geopolitics which some of our countries may find themselves placed in, given the discrepancy in population and geographic size between ourselves and many of the Latin American states. And they will recall that Brazil, in pursuit of an equalizing of its economic relations with the US and Europe, actively pursued the post-WTO removal of the preferential relationships guaranteeing meaningful access of our sugar to the industrialised world.

Of course, there was a time when the diplomacy of the Caribbean Community went in the direction of identifying the possibilities of an institutional location within the hemisphere which would allow us to act as an identifiable and active grouping in the remaking of international economic relationships within the hemisphere and beyond. We can recall active pursuit by Guyana and Jamaica in particular, in the era of the G77, vis-à-vis the G7, and the use of UNCTAD as a negotiating vehicle to advance our objectives vis-à-vis the OECD.

While the recession of the 1980s, particularly in Latin America, killed these initiatives, it is the entry of China into Western international economic relations that has virtually put paid to notions of developing countries’ solidarity of that kind. And similarly, hopes on our part that the ACP relationship, forged particularly with the African states during our Lomé negotiations, have rapidly diminished, as the EU early on insisted that future ACP negotiations towards an Economic Partnership Agreement should take place with the separate regions and sub-regions.

Today we look to the participation of the so-called emerging economies, functioning within the new G8, to safeguard our interests. The question arising, however, is whether there is a sufficient cohesion and institutional strength on our part, to permit a persistent intervention in that circle to ensure the advancing of our interests. The various disputes arising about the role and effectiveness of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) make some observers doubtful. Caricom continues to struggle to find an effective vehicle through the institutional consolidation of the CSME – the so-called governance issue – that can ensure this. But this is obviously an unfinished story as we face negotiations with the US and Canada.

In the meantime, our separate states seek, more or less independently, to forge closer relationships in order to secure some kind of visibility or influence with one or other emerging economic power, whether China or Brazil, as the former in particular seeks investments particularly in the mineral and agricultural commodities arenas.

Is this an optimal course for us? Will they be able to give consistent attention to our own medium-term economic objectives? These must be issues for consideration as we consider the state of our integration system in today’s environment.

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