Gonsalves urges ‘Big Four’ to push CARICOM agenda forward

-says OECS disadvantaged in Single Market arrangements

Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves has urged CARICOM’s founding member states to exhibit greater leadership, saying that uneven development of the movement could be due to domestic concerns taking priority over optimal regional activity.

In his address at the 32nd Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government, held in St Kitts and Nevis last Thursday, Gonsalves stressed the importance of leadership by the “Big Four”—Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago—adding that the region could ill afford the luxury of “such relative non-engagement.”

Gonsalves said that if such a situation existed among the founding member states, it inevitably led to the diminution of engagement by others. “The simple truth is that on the large strategic concerns, the line between the ‘national’ and the ‘regional’ is blurred to the point of non-existence. Globalisation and the altered architecture of the international political economy have caused this to be so,” he was quoted as saying in a CARICOM news release.

He suggested that it was inevitable that the change in government in Trinidad and Tobago in May 2010 would have resulted in a greater emphasis on domestic, rather than on regional matters. However, he said he believed that Trinidad’s government is populated by committed regionalists and it would again be at the fore in pushing the regional agenda on all fronts.

Ralph Gonsalves

According to Gonsalves, the region needed to face the facts as no credible, sustainable regional solution to the challenges of CLICO and British-American Insurance Company (BAICO) was possible without the active involvement of the government of Trinidad and Tobago. The same obtains on other issues including trade, regional governance, regional security, regional air and sea transportation, energy, health and education, he said. “The leadership of Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed of the `Big Four’, does not in any way mean a diminution of the importance on leadership of the other Member States of CARICOM. I simply make a salient point of practical politics in going forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, as regard developments in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the prime minister said that the grouping had moved resolutely and in solidarity towards the establishment of an OECS Economic Union in January 2011. He reported that by August 1, 2011 there would be complete freedom of movement of citizens between the six member-states of the Economic Union – Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines – while governance arrangements to suit the “more profound OECS Union” were altered.

“This deepening of the OECS Union beyond the current parameters of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and a functioning CARICOM clearly demands an amendment to the CARICOM Treaty itself to take account juridically of the explicit special and differential treatment of the member-states of the OECS,” Gonsalves said.

He added that the OECS had a range of issues that were targeted for resolution within the framework of CARICOM, with priority being given to the reality that OECS member-states “do not benefit proportionately or at all from the ‘single market’ arrangements in CARICOM. “Indeed, the CARICOM trading regime has contributed to the denudation of the manufacturing base in the OECS without necessarily benefiting the OECS consumer in terms of competitive price and quality,” Gonsalves said.

Further, he noted that the compensating mechanisms in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which are designed to assist the ‘disadvantaged’ countries of the OECS, have been insufficiently rolled out. “We look forward with great interest to the next round of financing for the CARICOM Development Fund, mandated as an obligation under Article 158 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas,” he said.

Gonsalves also warned that CARICOM, in its trading and “’single market’ manifestations, is unlikely to survive unchallenged if it continues to be too highly skewed or unequally yoked in favour of one or two of the `Big Four.’”

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