In the course of 2013 there was periodic grumbling within the region as to whether our integration movement had been making progress towards increasing unification of effort in both the economic and political spheres. In this very space we have commented on the extent to which, while there is a harmony of words and sentiments, the practical movement towards economic integration in particular, has been slow.
And indeed, at their meeting in July last year, the heads of government seemed to take cognizance of some degree of public antagonism to their decision to “pause” in respect of taking further steps towards implementation of the Single Market and Economy, while the laggards in the process came up to speed.
So in effect, in the course of last year, there seemed to be some sentiment that a strengthening of the region’s public face towards the world itself should reflect a collective approach in international affairs, even though in that sphere too, not all the passengers in the Caricom ship recognize the varieties of port in the world today.
Thus, on the one hand, in May 2013, the region welcomed the visit of Vice President Biden to Trinidad, where a wide variety of issues were discussed, and in general, a collective view seemed to have been expressed from our side that the United States can be doing more to support the development efforts of Caricom states. That sentiment seems to have been derived from a sense that the much heralded visit, in 2009, of President Obama to Trinidad for the Summit of the Americas, had not yielded as much as might have been expected; and perhaps a certain sense that the US’s central emphasis on control of the movement of narcotics appeared to be the main priority among its policies towards the region.
Of course it will have been noted that Vice President Biden’s visit was preceded, not long before (in March of this year) by a full presidential meeting with the Central American heads of state and government, following the President’s visit to Mexico. And common to both that meeting and Biden’s Caricom meeting, were the Heads of both the Dominican Republic and Belize, maximizing their opportunities for high-level contacts with the United States as members of the Central American Integration system (SICA) as well as Cariforum in the case of the first, and Caricom in the case of the second.
In 2013 too, a certain unease continued to be indicated by Caricom with the Dominican Republic itself, that country insisting on a more active presence within the Cariforum, and full membership of Caricom itself. That unease, in a way, climaxed with what might be called a diplomatic faux pas made by that country as a result of its highest court’s decision to deem large numbers of Haitians living in the country for extensive periods as, in effect, illegal instruments.
It is, of course, a fact that Caricom’s activist regional and international response to the Dominican Republic decision, which the authorities there have insisted they cannot turn over by political action, has resulted, when taken together with wider international action, on the initiation of a diplomacy with Haiti that seems to be bearing positive fruit, instead of the poisoned one of mass expulsion to that country.
But there seemed to be a sense also, that the Dominican Republic decision emphasized a feeling that would appear to have been evident for some time, though relatively muted, in Caricom itself, that the DR is not entirely suited for that full membership of the integration movement, at whose door that country has been knocking for some time. It is unlikely that Caricom officials would admit to any such sentiment, but it seems necessary to contemplate that not simply in the Cariforum system, but as Inter-American relations evolve and the EU itself seeks to modernize its own approach to the Latin American arena, this issue of membership, while deferred (though not formally) by Caricom for another year, will have to be faced before the decade is out.
What has therefore certainly been a continuing unsteadiness in relations with the DR also continues to characterize Caricom relations in the present year. And we can perhaps see this, it might be called, continuity of a posture of uncertainty towards that country, as an issue which Caricom will have to face in this and future years, as we move towards more decisive relations with the Latin American arena as a whole, where postures and geopolitical relationships historically dictated from imperial relations and attitudes are deemed unacceptable.
In the course of 2013, Caricom countries, and in particular the tourism destinations, also learnt of the diminishing strength of those post-imperial relations that we have established, as Britain continued to insist that its decision to maintain, and perhaps even increase, the Airport Passenger Duty (referred to in these parts as the British Airport Tax), could not be removed or reduced. So that the pleadings of our countries that the concentration on tourism is part of a determined response to the diminishing revenue effects of the WTO multilateral liberalized trade arrangements, and should be facilitated, have had no positive response.
From that perspective, while as the Bali trade talks concluded, there has been much self-congratulation among the major countries, including some of our Latin American neighbours like Brazil, Caricom states are faced, in this year and beyond, with the task of restrategising their international economic diplomacy. And they will be facing the issue of whether we ourselves have come to terms with the issues of organized economic scale as a significant element in the challenge emanating from global economic liberalization.
And from this perspective too, as the year 2014 and subsequent years roll on, we may well find that we, as a region, are unlikely to find much empathy in our neighbouring Latin American region, as the larger ones among them, whether a Brazil, or a Mexico undertaking a rapid internal economic reorganization in the face of what it sees as a new post-NAFTA global challenge, seek to ensure their own effective responses.
2013 will have taught us that countries are moving towards regionalized responses in the international economic system ‒ witness the extent of diplomatic activity in the Pacific towards organizing new economic blocs, an effort which the US has shown it is closely watching as President Obama insists on his Asia-Pacific and ‘pivot.’ Economic scale is now defined as the issue by the mightiest.
In our region, public dissatisfaction with both the “integration pause,” and sliding national economies in the area, induced a commitment at the July heads summit towards the establishment of a Caricom Commission on the Economy. We are left to see whether its report will induce, among our governments, any sense of the fact that there is in today’s world no substitute for economic scale, meaning economic integration in one form or another.