Is Caribbean integration no longer practical? – By David jessop

The View from Europe – Is Caribbean integration no longer practical? 

David Jessop

David Jessop

Published on May 30, 2015 – By David Jessop

Earlier this year, Owen Arthur, the former prime minister of Barbados, described the malaise that now affects much of the Anglophone Caribbean.

Delivering the 15th Archibald Nedd Memorial Lecture in Grenada, Mr. Arthur observed that the typical Caribbean nation now has to rely for material progress on economic systems that are no longer viable.

“Conditioned for centuries to depending upon preferential access to foreign markets for their exports, on high levels of domestic protection for their industries, and on generous access to concessional financing to support their development, almost every Caribbean nation, has now to face the prospect of building economic systems without the benefit of such props,” he said. 

He also observed that at the same time most Caribbean states had evolved social sectors that are too large to be carried by economies undergoing transition, and that “the entitlements now afforded to citizens must be paid for in new and sometimes traumatic ways”.

“All the evidence suggests that the transition from the age of preferences to the age of competitive self-reliance has had devastating consequences,” Mr Arthur said.

Most Caribbean states, he said, face potentially overwhelming problems in meeting their current expenses to provide essential social services. However, because their debt service accounts for such a large part of revenue, many now do not have the wherewithal to fund the creative things that can spur on the development of their economies.

“It is as if the regional economies are caught between two worlds; one that is dead or dying, the other that is struggling to be born,” he said.

Mr Arthur’s remarks and others made more recently in a national context by St Lucia’s prime minister, Dr Kenny Anthony, in his budget presentation, make clear the long-term existential nature of what Barbados’ former prime minister described as ‘stresses so massive as not to lend themselves to easy resolution’.

What is less certain – not least because the Caribbean Development Bank is forecasting a slow return to growth for most economies – is whether anyone in the region is politically courageous enough to set out, let alone deliver, new and challenging solutions that might enable Caribbean nations to escape the inherent contradiction between smallness, low levels of growth and the popular expectation of a US standard of living.

It also far from clear whether anyone in power is prepared to think the unthinkable: that perfecting Caribbean integration may no longer be a relevant approach, and what may be required are new alliances and configurations buttressed by better leadership, new thinking, new infrastructure, new hemispheric relationships, improved education, and generational change.

This is not to set aside the importance of the Caribbean as an identity, but to try to be realistic. It is also to wonder whether there might be greater value in nations seeking new groupings with those Caribbean and Central American nations that offer greater complimentarity.

To some extent this is already happening by default. Belize is engaged in deepening its relationship with its Central American partners in SICA; the Dominican Republic is rapidly linking its economy to that of Puerto Rico as well as to selected Latin neighbours; Cuba is seeking to open new investment and trade relationships with the US, Russia, the EU, China Brazil and other nations that offer complimentarity and balance; Guyana’s new government seems set to deepen its economic ties with neighbours in Brazil, Suriname, French Guiana and Venezuela; and Trinidad has had for a number of years now, an approach that seeks overlapping trade relationships with the US and the countries of Latin America.

What may now be required is a debate that is both practical and visionary. If full regional integration is not achievable, a more realistic approach may be to see the future as a process of slow steady integration at a sub-regional level between compatible economies such as those in the OECS; a deeper relationship with the French DOM; involve economic integration between the larger countries of the northern Caribbean and Cayman irrespective of language or politics; and see Panama and eventually Havana as a regional hubs of greater long-term importance than Miami, given Cuba’s emerging relationship with the US.

Many states beyond the region now see their international relationships differently. They accept that while the may be in some form of economic or political alliance, they have overlapping or different interests, and that their positions on all issues, especially economic, are unlikely to be same.

Put another way, recognising that CARICOM’s members have made deeper integration unworkable by failing to cede sovereignty and legally binding executive authority, the greater value in future for the countries of the Caribbean may lie in developing a much wider range of market-led complimentary economic relationships.

In a world of self-reliance and competition, the whole concept of the Caribbean as a single economic entity may also be of questionable longevity. Put more bluntly is Jamaica’s vision or its interests any longer those of St Vincent; or is the thinking of Guyana the same as that of the Bahamas in a world that has moved on?

The Caribbean’s shortcomings are well known. They have been exhaustively discussed. The issue now is whether the deep challenges of the kind that Owen Arthur referred to in the context of future IMF support, can be resolved by Caribbean countries jointly working together, or whether it is too late for this.

Two weeks ago I wrote about leadership and new generations. Judging from the number and range of responses I received on the subject, there is a profound sense that many in the region want a change in the way they are governed and led, and a wish for those in positions of power to look over the horizon, arrive at, and then deliver new solutions. My fear is that if this does not happen, many of regions the brightest young women and men will, as one correspondent put it, simply leave.

David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted Previous columns can be found

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/30/2015 at 2:55 pm

    David Jessop raises some serious and valid questions about the future of Caribbean integration. I wish I had the answers. As a former international trade professional who chronicles trade blocks worldwide on my US-Brazil Trade Assist website, I know of the value of nations within a region coming together to do business in the global marketplace. All trade blocks, like CARICOM, face their own unique challenges in working together and achieving their goals.

    Perhaps, the root of CARICOM’s woes lies in its historical legacy as former small colonial territories. Jessop notes that CARICOM members “have made deeper integration unworkable by failing to cede sovereignty and legally binding executive authority…” In other words, Caribbean leaders all want to be boss; all want to have the last say. The bigger one’s economy, the heavier one’s clout and the ability to undermine concessions made.

    In his book Walter Rodney: His Last Days and Campaigns, Eusi Kwayana notes: “[Rodney] understood that the middle class in the Caribbean had no destiny of its own. It was either a destiny in the service of the oppressors and imperialism or a destiny in the service of the working masses of the population. He saw the middle class, descriptively, as an ‘overseering’ class.”

    From this middle class arose the leadership of the region’s independent nations. ‘Overseers’ were not concerned with the plight of the oppressed workers making up the mass of the population. Their main concern was in maintaining the status quo.

    Finding a haven within other trade blocks will not solve the problems of CARICOM member states if their leaders maintain the same attitudes that make Caribbean integration unworkable.

  • Thinker  On 05/30/2015 at 3:37 pm

    Walter Rodney was no economist. Considering the present leadership overseers doesnt say much. Are the leaders in China,Cuba, Vietnam or North Korea any different in terms of the plight of the oppressed workers. All this stuff about the workers of the world having nothing to lose but their chains is seriously outdated. Even in a Europe which largely forms a contiguous land mass there are issues around giving up sovereignty and legally binding executive authority. Let Jessop address that too. We all have to get real.

  • Gigi  On 05/31/2015 at 1:50 pm

    “All the evidence suggests that the transition from the age of preferences to the age of competitive self-reliance has had devastating consequences,”

    It’s hard for those conditioned in a welfare/master-slave mindset to become self-reliant, even when the handout is paltry and the strings attached are equivalent to a noose tied around the neck being slowly and tortuously tightened.

    “that perfecting Caribbean integration may no longer be a relevant approach, and what may be required are new alliances and configurations buttressed by better leadership, new thinking, new infrastructure, new hemispheric relationships, improved education, and generational change.”

    Pivot to BRICS relationships? The Caribbean leaders might look and what recently transpired in Guyana’s election and not be willing make such a bold move. What is needed is for the BRICS countries to provide STRONG support to countries willing to break away from old hemispheric/colonial rule.

    “or is the thinking of Guyana the same as that of the Bahamas in a world that has moved on?”

    Yep, the thinking is still there. Lots of Uncle Toms and Aunt Jemimas still crabbing around in the barrel while attempting to walk on two legs – eight legs good, two legs better.

    Maybe, for Guyana, it’s time to discuss the feasibility and practicality of two separate Guyanas – a New Democratic Republic of Guyana separate from the other Guyana. A new DRG facilitated by South America and BRICS allies.

  • Thinker  On 05/31/2015 at 6:40 pm

    Do I see any other hands going up for PARTITION NOW. Gigi is firmly rooted in the past and has to be taken with many grains of salt. Facilitation would involve South America eating up the supposed DRG.

  • walter  On 05/31/2015 at 7:48 pm

    Napoleon complex is the main problem with the majority of the “Small Islands” People my xx, buying fruits/ vegetables from the US, refusing to even consider Guyana. Time to Guyana to look elsewhere, rebuild the country. We were alone. are alone. and will be always be alone. Nowadays every thing moves faster, Guyana must look inward during the rebuilding, the Caribbean nations know Guyana will soar to it’s rightful place, I think the time has come. I. me, never forgave them for the lack of appreciation, of what our many professional migrants did for them. So we soar, and soar, Goodbye.

  • Leslie Chin  On 01/17/2016 at 12:34 pm

    In his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2015 President David Granger highlighted the plight of newly independent micro states and their struggle to survive. Leaders of micro states believe that they are doing their country a great service in fighting for independence but are actually depriving their country of the protection and guidance of their mother country i.e. Great Britain. In order to survive micro states need to belong to a larger political grouping for economy of scale and mutual self defense e.g. the West Indian Federation. The federation failed because of the egos of their leaders who were more interested in their own glory rather than the greater good of their countries. It was the selfishness of the island leaders that caused the West Indian Federation to break up in the 1960’s.
    What is needed is a dedicated leader who can unite the different factions, by force if necessary. We had Cuffy (Kofi) in Berbice, Toussaint L’Ouverture (Haiti), George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (USA), Simon Bolivar (Venezuela and South America), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Mahatma Gandhi (India) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa). Only Singapore which Lee Kwan Yew successfully took out of the Malaysian Federation is thriving as a standalone micro state. The leaders should try again for a West Indian Federation. At the very least they should keep CARICOM going and work to strengthen it.
    However, the time will come when Russia or China move to take over the region then the Americans may respond citing the Monroe doctrine about foreign powers in the Americas. They should preemptively absorb the old British West Indies including Guyana as a commonwealth territory like Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands, Guam, etc. The West Indies may eventually become a state like Hawaii and Alaska.

    • Albert  On 01/18/2016 at 10:56 am

      This society look for benefits. What use is the BWI to the US. She already get its young people for the military, labor and to support the social security system.with easy visa. What other benefit exist.

  • walter  On 01/17/2016 at 1:40 pm

    If the members of Caribbean just accept Guyana as their lynchpin, there is a possibility of better and faster success as a group. Constantly turning their backs, from their mini Ivory Towers was so shallow. If every thing turns out as new opportunities predict, Guyana will surpass them in every aspect (including Tourism) Remember we only have to “cross” the road to get to our new friends.

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