Stocktaking time for CARICOM at 40

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THIS week’s regular annual Summit of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) is a most opportune time for a serious objective assessment of the state of the regional economic integration movement inaugurated in Trinidad and Tobago four decades ago.

Whatever the priority issues for their agenda over three days, starting on Thursday, it would be most disappointing for CARICOM citizens to learn that sufficient time was not devoted to a clinical assessment of the plus and minus factors, in an effort to keep hope alive for realisation of the official commitment  to building ‘One Community for One People’.
The quartet of ‘founding fathers’ of CARICOM have long ago passed away, but successive governments of what today constitutes a Community of 15 member states must seize the moment for realistic stocktaking to determine how best to rescue the integration movement from prevailing sloth, cynicism and doubt in this year of its 40th anniversary.
It deserves mentioning that while the region’s private sector so often becomes involved  in lamentations over lack of progress involving  major objectives, the truth is that while engaged in finger-pointing at government,  even prominent entrepreneurs across this region must share the blame for actions NOT taken.
Whatever happened, for instance, to the creation of the promised Caribbean Business Council (BCC), once so passionately promised by prominent decision-makers in the public and private sectors?
While now observing CARICOM’s 40th Anniversary,  the reality is that active, visionary involvement by some of the region’s leading entrepreneurs (including from this country) in major agricultural/manufacturing project is of comparatively recent vintage.
Even in the area of intra-regional trade, they appear to be more often involved in complaints and criticisms than in creative initiatives.
It is simply unfair, to say the least, to be constantly blaming the CARICOM Secretariat, or a particular government, when things go wrong that could have been avoided by timely   bilateral/multi-lateral interventions of relevance.

Trade and CSME
There have been varying media perspectives this past week on challenges facing CARICOM. Some reflected concerns range from an apparent lack of will to make a reality of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), implementation of which was promised seven years ago, after some 13 previous years of deliberations.
Others have been engaged in ongoing lamentations over claimed “unfair” intra-regional trading practices in a Community that continues to move at a virtual snail’s pace to achieve even an estimated 18/20 per cent volume of the region’s world trade.
And this in the face of continuing significant dependence on foreign imports of food,  amid incessant “talk” about “the huge potential” of the region’s vital agricultural sector.
Last week, for instance, came two perspectives of the Caribbean Community, one an editorial in last Wednesday’s ‘Jamaica Observer’ with the provocative title: “Is CARICOM the  bloc the builders rejected?”
On the following day, the Observer was reporting on a passionate reaffirmation in support of CARICOM by Foreign Minister A.J. Nicholson  to an earlier plea for an end to the frequent quarrels over trade between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
The arresting question of the Observer’s editorial could have been misinterpreted, without careful reading, as being unsupportive of CARICOM. In reality, it was designed to spur the regional integration movement into taking positive initiatives for advancing intra-regional trade and economic development as being done by other trading blocs.
For his part, Foreign Minister Nicholson was at the time reaffirming his earlier public rebuke to the Jamaican  private sector’s recurring complaints against Trinidad and Tobago’s  widening trade surplus to the disadvantage of his country’s economy. His strong advice was to “stop the complaining” and refocus on how we could boost intra-regional trade.

Harsh reality
At this time of CARICOM’s 40th anniversary, the harsh reality is that for all the welcome efforts being sustained to ensure meaningful functional cooperation among member states—one of the five pillars of the regional integration movement—there remain yawning gaps in the fulfillment of oft-repeated assurances to also resolve outstanding issues directly affecting citizens of the Community.
Foremost among these would certainly include, despite official statements, the poor treatment—at times even hostile—experienced by Community nationals from immigration services at ports of entry.
The sadness is that instead of being oriented by their respective governments to be pleasant and cooperative when dealing with fellow citizens of the Community, such citizens are often treated as intruders.
Worse, CARICOM citizens are often denied entry at some ports of entry without being on any so called “security list”. They are then hustled out on the next available flight at some airports in the Community whose government leaders also engage in the rhetoric, popularised by the Georgetown-based Secretariat, of “One Community, One People”.
Such treatment of CARICOM nationals in this second decade of the 21st Century,  amid rising cost of air fares, can hardly endear affected  citizens to the notion of a “One Community, One People”.
Air fares and the hassle over guaranteed scheduled flights are issues that are also expected to resurface when the CARICOM leaders take, hopefully, some quality time to seriously discuss the recurring challenges of regional air transportation.
Let’s hope the CARICOM leaders will surprise us by some new creative decisions on the 40th anniversary of  the regional economic integration.