IN the 19th century, after the end of the colonial wars of the 18th century, the European empires in the Caribbean entered into a period of stability. But it was a stability that was due to inertia and neglect, since the West Indian colonies had ceased to have the importance they once had to their mother countries, in particular Britain and France. And after World War II, these colonial powers decided to grant their colonies independence.
The first effort by Britain to begin its withdrawal began with the establishment of the West Indies Federation, but this Federation lasted only four years. After that experience, both the local West Indian politicians and Britain felt that granting independence to each colony was the preferred option and by the end of the 1960s, all the British colonies except Montserrat had gained their independence. But independence was no panacea and West Indian politicians were now faced with all the problems — social, economic and political — which the departing colonial powers had bequeathed to them.
At this time, fortunately, the West Indies was blessed with a number of able and imaginative leaders who realised that the West Indian colonies could not stand individually alone in a globalised world and that they had to cooperate, or even be unified. Unification was difficult because there were strong provincialisms in each former colony but these, however, were counterbalanced by the overarching understanding that the Region was a Culture Nation.
Accordingly, led by LFS Burnham of Guyana, Eric Williams of Trinidad, Norman and Michael Manley of Jamaica and Grantley Adams of Barbados, the leaders decided to form the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), which was a basic Customs Union. This was succeeded by the CSME (Caribbean Single Market and Economy), which was intended to bring about a deeper economic unity. Burnham, Williams and the Manleys had felt that a Customs Union and closer economic integration would eventually result in a unified Caribbean and their efforts and analyses could not be faulted. The CSME, after an enthusiastic and impacting beginning was however gradually overtaken by inertia after the disappearance off the scene of these great leaders,
Our present Caribbean leaders now feel the need for an active and revived CSME and they have been making efforts which they admit to be too slow; and at the last meeting of the CSME held in Trinidad and Tobago last December, they declared they would move forward relentlessly, fully effectuating the goals of the CSME. The initial focus of the CSME was to liberalise trade in goods among member countries, that is a basic Customs Union, but this was to be expanded to include services, free movement of capital, skilled labour, and the freedom to establish business enterprises anywhere within the 15-member grouping.
The December CSME meeting in Trinidad and Tobago was chaired by the Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Before the July, 2018 summit in Jamaica, the Jamaica Parliament had passed a resolution of the need of CARICOM member states to make a clear commitment to establishing a single market ” with a specific time-bound, measurable and verifiable programme of action to fulfil all outstanding obligations within a period of five years.” In keeping with this resolution, Prime Minister Holness, as Chairman of the December CSME meeting, called upon member states to take decisive action to transform the CSME into a facility that will truly serve the interests of the Caribbean people. “We will call upon all member states”, he appealed ” to summon the necessary political will and determination to ensure that programmes and initiatives are strategically focused and geared towards meeting an ambitious process of reform.”
It is generally agreed that the CSME has been badly underachieving. Some officials at both the CARICOM Secretariat and in the various national governments have been blaming the politicians for being lackadaisical; but recently, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley has blamed some officials for the deadweight. She indicated with some emphasis that in some quarters of officialdom there were psychological impediments and closed mind-sets which result in sometimes decisions not being worked out before hand and the recording of decisions often not being clear and precise. She added . . . “these decisions fall victim to bureaucratic inertia and resistance from those who did not participate meaningfully in their design, or have not been fully enlightened as to their positive purpose.” Both positions have some merit, but it is only by strong political will that the CSME would be able to break out of this dead end.
Before the July 2018 summit in Jamaica, Prime Minister Holness had appointed a CARICOM Review Commission under the chairmanship of Bruce Golding, former prime minister. That commission recommended among other things, that the CARICOM Treaty should be amended to institutionalise involvement of the private sector and the labour movement and Prime Minister Mottley supported the idea. We are of the view that the induction of the private sector and the labour movement into CSME would more quickly revivify it.
Very often, CARICOM leaders are distracted from focusing on the CSME, by the problems of their individual territories. To overcome this, we are of the opinion that every Caribbean territory should establish a special sub-ministry or department to deal with CSME and CARICOM affairs and to be able to be in touch with each other. Once the CSME becomes proactive, the importance of its achievements to the Caribbean would be unfolded and its vital importance to Caribbean life recognised.