Still trying to understand ‘convergence’

Our July 19, 2013 editorial (Trying to understand ‘convergence’) had attempted to make sense of Trinidad and Tobago Foreign Minister Winston Dookeran’s “New Caribbean Convergence Model,” as set forth in the inaugural issue of the Caribbean Journal of International Relations and Diplomacy, which advocated widening the scope of Caricom, through alliances with the wider Caribbean, in pursuit of production integration and “building competitive industries globally.” It was not an altogether radical or objectionable idea, or even a new one, but it was a concept that was difficult to grasp because it was not sufficiently developed and lacked the clarity, coherence and empirical data necessary to take it beyond a political statement.

In the second issue of the Journal, Mr Dookeran, according to the publication’s editorial, “develops a detailed and expansive discussion of the notion of ‘Caribbean Convergence,’” in an attempt to “flesh out” his argument. As such, the abstract of the article states that it “elaborates, explains and analyses the notion” which “represents a new way of thinking about integration in the region, and a potential strategy for injecting the process with new life and energy.” The article also offers a “twelve-point action program… grounded in a distinctive series of strategies relating to finance, resource clustering, infrastructure, and production integration.”

Action to re-energise the faltering regional integration process is certainly long overdue and there is no shortage of good ideas on how to achieve this, many of them already put forward by the likes of eminent thinkers such as Norman Girvan, Vaughan Lewis, PJ Patterson and Sonny Ramphal. These, lamentably, have elicited little response from the region’s political directorate.

Mr Dookeran quotes Sir Shridath Ramphal’s observation that the region’s leaders have “put the gears of Caricom Single Market in neutral and the gears of Caricom Single Economy into reverse.” But his attempt to link the regional statesman’s views on the health of the Community to his thesis that the “Caricom integration as a process has reached its limits” is somewhat disingenuous. If anything, the Caricom project is as alive with possibilities as it ever was. It is perhaps the region’s leaders who have reached the limits of their imagination and political will to implement the Single Market and Economy (CSME) and advance the integration process. But, at least, Mr Dookeran is trying to think of a way out of the current stasis.

Curiously, though, Mr Dookeran now elaborates on “Caribbean convergence” to posit “Caribbean Sea convergence” as the way forward, and he explains that this is premised on developing public-private partnerships in production integration, distribution and competitiveness across an expanded Caribbean market of 40 million people, including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the Dutch and French islands and French Guiana. He does not, however, discuss how Caricom’s small economies, apart from Trinidad and Tobago, would survive in this wider, more competitive configuration, without first ensuring that the CSME is in place to provide the platform for insertion into a wider regional economic space.

Not only that, Mr Dookeran’s “new frontier for Caribbean convergence” is remarkably similar, in everything but name, to the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), the mechanism for exploring the widening of regional cooperation and integration, as recommended by the West Indian Commission in 1992, which has achieved little of note in its 18 years of existence.

In putting forward concrete proposals to expand the regional political and economic space, Mr Dookeran makes some useful suggestions with regard to transport, capital mobility, energy, food security and finance policies. But these are all areas in which Caricom is already working and which the ACS could pursue if its members were so minded. Even more strangely, this third and final section of the paper reads suspiciously like a presentation to Caricom’s Council of Foreign Ministers (Cofcor), going so far as to include the following startling paragraph as the conclusion to the whole article:

“6. Monos Island Chaguaramas Declaration

“The CARICOM Foreign Ministers, after having met and reviewed the document ‘A New Frontier for Caribbean Convergence’, hereby declare political support for actualizing the twelve-point action proposal. We unanimously commit to execute the above proposals with immediate effect with the goal of achieving Caribbean Convergence.”

Unfortunately, this cut-and-paste of ideas does not deliver on the promise of the Journal’s editorial or abstract and fails to make a convincing case for convergence as an alternative to deeper integration. The Trinidadian foreign minister, a former economics lecturer at the University of the West Indies, has been poorly served by his advisers and the Journal’s editors.

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