As the old year turned, new regimes took hold in both the United States and China, acknowledged by most people in the Caribbean and elsewhere as the countries most likely to determine the international frameworks within which our countries will find it necessary to function. There was undoubtedly some relief as President Obama was re-elected in November with a majority that seemed to indicate some degree of confidence in him on the part of the American people.
That relief was, however, not particularly confident in terms of any strong feeling that the United States under Obama’s governance, is likely to demonstrate any strong feelings or initiatives towards the Caribbean during his second term. The President had seemed to indicate some promise of increased American interest in the region after his first election when, fortuitously, the Summit of the Americas was held in Trinidad & Tobago in 2009. But the general sense at this point would seem to be that the President’s other preoccupations, in the Middle East and with reworking relations with a China increasingly aggressive in its economic activity and diplomacy, have obviously taken precedence over concerns with small countries in this hemisphere.
Part of this lack of concern has been an American sense, first, that the Latin American environment in which we live would appear to be increasingly able to look after itself, particularly in terms of economic growth; and secondly, that in this hemisphere, the major actors, and in particular Brazil, are inclined to attempt to autonomously forge new relations among themselves, as well as going beyond their geographical sphere to reconfigure their relations with other fast-growing developing states – economies now known as the BRICS.
The United States will have seen that the countries of Caricom have, in that emerging geopolitical environment, been pulled into seeking more coherent relations with the Latin states, as indicated in our adherence to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). And the American leadership will have recognized also that contrary to concerns deriving from the Cold War atmosphere, configurations like CELAC are essentially pragmatic, inclined to economic integration with other states and regions on a non-ideological basis, and therefore not likely to pose geopolitical difficulties for the US, even as they incorporate states like Cuba and Venezuela with somewhat different world views from a Brazil or Chile, or even an Argentina.
The present geopolitical climate in the hemisphere would therefore appear to provide pathways, over the next decade or so, for Caricom-Cariforum states to promote relationships with significant countries in the area in at least two directions. The first is to propose, through pragmatic strategies and designs, ways in which the larger countries can assist our own integration and economic development.
And this means taking more positive initiatives towards institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank which, under the influence of countries like Brazil in particular, are developing new approaches to economic integration. For these countries, economic integration means establishing practical connections between the economies of various countries, so as to create the economic scale that can maximize productive participation in the global economy.
It would appear that both Guyana and Suriname are beginning to appreciate the economic growth possibilities inherent in this approach. It is therefore partly for these countries to indicate to the island states what is possible in responding to such initiatives. And it would seem to be the case also, that the Caribbean Development Bank should take a more strategic approach to integration based on this wider economic and geopolitical platform, particularly at a time when the economic status of the CDB, as indicated by the major international financial assessors, seems to be being downgraded.
For the major issue at this time of economic and financial constriction for many Caricom states is first, how to find the resources for adjustment to the global economic reconstruction process, indicated for us particularly in the locking out of many Caricom countries exports from traditional markets. It is noticeable that in recent months, Trinidad & Tobago, through both governmental and private sector initiatives, has been seeking to engage economic possibilities by connecting towards the effective use of the Panama Canal and that country’s development priorities. But that is a national initiative that does not suggest a positioning of Trinidad as part of a wider Caricom zone.
In other words, it seems to us that in the face of global economic changes, our countries are still perceiving possibilities for economic growth on new bases from largely an autonomous, or single state, perspective, putting in doubt the relevance of the Caricom as an integrated strategising and policy implementation entity. And the question therefore arises, from the perspective of the larger states in the hemisphere, as to the basis on which these larger hemispheric entities should really conduct their relationships with the countries of this sub-region. Note that in South America, Brazil has been determined to persist with the forging of Mercosur, in spite of periodic political impediments within that sphere.
As our countries look at the world around us in this new decade, it would appear that the inclination of many is to focus not so much on consideration of economic integration possibilities, but rather on seeking economic assistance from larger developing countries for financial assistance to sustain existing economies in a time of increasing indebtedness. This would appear to be the approach that we are taking to countries like China, Venezuela and some of the small energy-rich states in the Middle East. There appear to be no substantial programmes, from a regional integration, and therefore economic-scale-building perspective, that we seem to be able to collectively put to such countries, on the basis of Caricom-CDB collective initiatives. Is this good enough?
We are perhaps, as the second decade of the new millennium has dawned, still not seized of the various cross-country initiatives taking place even in relatively well-endowed spheres of the globe. It is instructive to see the countries of ASEAN persistently seeking to adapt, as a regional grouping, to changing economic and political parameters in that sphere of the world. For there, governments of the relatively smaller countries now appear to be well seized of the significance of China’s emergence, the implications of India’s economic growth, and the need for the kinds of integration that will permit a long-term survival less dependent on the economic growth of the United States.
Is it time for us, in this second decade, to consider whether the laborious efforts that we have put into negotiating the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union are appropriate to the present? Although in the last quarter of the last century we have spent so much time in negotiating with the EU on that EPA, are we at all confident that the arrangements that we have arrived at, which seem to give little priority to new possibilities of economic integration in any concerted manner, are appropriate to even the next quarter century?
Are our relations with the EU likely to be particularly productive over the next decade, if in the face of the dynamic developments in economic arrangements going on around us all over the world, we, in the second decade of the new millennium remain on ‘pause’ in configuring our own integration effort? Does this posture give our external interlocutors any real confidence in our objectives for this new decade?