The decision of the Government of Jamaica to establish a Caribbean Community (Caricom) Review Commission probably caught other Caricom countries and governments by surprise. No doubt too, it will have prodded some memories of the Jamaican decision to hold a referendum on, and the country’s subsequent secession from, the Federation of the West Indies, prompting Trinidad Prime Minister Eric Williams’s response that “One from ten equals nought”, and the subsequent demise of the federal experiment.
Reports from Jamaica, however, suggest that Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness has taken some care to disparage any suggestions of Jamaican dissatisfaction with the functioning of Caricom to an extent that it might prompt a departure from the regional integration process. And we can surmise, that during his recent visit to Jamaica, Trinidad Prime Minister Keith Rowley will have been given some insight into the context of the Jamaican decision to set up the Commission under former Jamaica Labour Party Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who has, over the years, had extensive relations and interaction with Caricom and sentiment in the Region.
We can well understand that developments in the geographical environment of Jamaica would induce the government to seek to examine how these will evolve over the next decade or so, and influence Jamaica’s regional policymaking. The evolution of Cuba in terms of its geopolitical relations in the wider Caribbean and the hemisphere must have begun to induce much thought in Jamaica on how that country’s evolution will show its face in terms of future economic competitiveness in the wider Caribbean; and as an inevitable recipient of investment in industrial and tourism activities from North America, encroaching on the apparent space for Jamaica created by the Cold War environment.
But more importantly, it is now virtually inevitable that the economies of the northern Caribbean arena will be seen, by the North American giants, the United States and Canada, not simply as locations for individual investments in specific countries, but as collective locations with wide investment possibilities and extensive market spaces, drawing the countries of the northern Caribbean even more into their orbit than has hitherto been the case. And in that geo-economic context, Jamaica will want to ensure within its own borders, an arena of competitiveness of substantial scope and attractiveness.
This perspective suggests an inclination on the part of Jamaica to pay increasing attention to the possibilities for enhancing the competitiveness of its own economic space, creating, in turn the potential for widening the market space available to itself. And further, it can be surmised, that Jamaica, as part of Caricom, will probably want to induce its regional partners to examine the possibilities for a wider integration space beyond the present Caricom economic configuration.
It may be that the representatives of Jamaica at the recent Caricom Heads meeting will have had some discussion or consultation on the prospects of the Golding Commission. And indications would seem to be (as we suggested in a recent editorial) that the Trinidad Prime Minister, on his recent visit to Jamaica, and as a head of a major Caricom industrial country, will have sought to further comprehend the dimensions of current Jamaican thinking.
Pertinent to the Jamaican initiative are evolving perspectives that the community should begin to look, in depth, at the potential consequences of developments in the northern Caribbean – in relation, in particular, to Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Golding Commission has been charged with reviewing the Caricom arrangement “in the context of the wider Caribbean”; and estimating “the value of Jamaica’s membership in terms of influencing wider international fora and other development partners”. And in that connection, It has also been specifically asked to “consider the question of enlargement of the membership of Caricom”.
It is noteworthy that the charge to the Golding Commission has been that of assessing the “effect of Jamaica’s participation [in Caricom] on the country’s economic growth”. This, no doubt, suggests that for the Jamaican leadership this is likely to be, from a populist perspective, the crux of the matter. Given the history of Jamaica’s economic growth over the last thirty or more years, including the period of democratic socialism and then an intensive striving to bring the economy back to a stance of 1960s’ economic growth, it will be interesting to see how an evaluation is made.
No doubt, however, the commission will also give consideration, not only to the narrower economic aspects of the country’s participation in Caricom, but past extensive participation of the country in the external relations of the community, with important initiatives being taken during the Manley and then the Patterson eras. Their diplomacy sought to encourage a consistency in Caricom foreign policy in striving towards concluding the Economic Partnership Agreement with the EUconsequent upon Britain’s assuming membership of the EEC/EU. This ensured an innovative framework of both diplomatic and economic assistance arrangements between Caricom and the Europeans, but also towards taking the Caricom into a negotiating partnership with the African states in particular, which enhanced the strength of the Region in issues involving changing relations of Third World countries with the evolving European integration experiment.
What is now interesting, is that consequent upon those major efforts Jamaica and the Region are now faced with the new challenge of Britain’s negotiation of a Brexit – a threatened departure from the EU. In that regard, the Golding Commission will find itself not only reviewing the past and its effect on the Jamaican economy in particular, but will, no doubt, feel compelled to go forward and perceive the future that Britain now envisages for itself. Whether that challenge to the Caricom arena will require a collective – that is Caricom – positioning towards Europe will be important for the review to investigate.
The Golding Commission will most probably, therefore, find itself not only assessing what Jamaica has gained from past and current membership of Caricom, but whether the context of the changes that the United Kingdom envisages for itself, and the possible wider European reactions, will not summon, once again, a collective, institutional, effort – call it a Caricom effort or whatever else – that will induce a further widening of Caricom, bringing Jamaica, in particular, closer to its northern Caribbean neighbours, into a yet wider Caribbean institutionalised negotiating framework.