Mon | Oct 22, 2018

David Jessop | Time for honesty about the future of CSME

Published:Sunday | July 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The CARICOM Secretariat

In the coming days, Caricom Heads of Government will meet in Montego Bay. There, they will hold a special session on the future of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, the CSME.

They will also consider the recommendations contained in the Golding report, which was published earlier this year.

As is now well known, that report spoke to the region's historic failure to modernise; Caricom governments' inability to act on decisions; and the need for long-overdue remedial measures to be agreed to make the CSME fit for purpose.

It made 33 specific recommendations and proposed that each Caricom state should commit to establishing a 'specific, time-bound, measurable, and verifiable' action programme to make the CSME 'fully established and operational' within the next five years.

More recently, to inform and perhaps pre-empt too divisive a debate when Heads come to discuss how to make the CSME more effective, Caricom convened a two-day regional stakeholder consultation in Guyana to explore these ideas.

Significantly, the meeting demonstrated that while a consensus is achievable on the value and benefit to be derived from regional integration, it may now be impossible to reach an agreement on what must be done to breathe new life into a process plagued by rhetoric and inaction.

 

REGION MUST CLIMB

 

The comments made in Georgetown showed the mountain that the region must climb if a new consensus on the revival of the regional integration process is to be achieved. It indicated that nothing short of a fundamental redesign of the architecture of the CSME is now required.

Among those present were the Prime Minister of St Vincent Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Bruce Golding. Both were of the view that the original concept of the CSME may now be unviable but expressed significantly different views on the steps required to change its structure and trajectory.

Dr Gonsalves told participants that issues such as the free movement of people, the co-ordination of foreign policy, economic disparity, inter-island air and sea transport, and a change in the Caricom governance structure had to be undertaken before the region could ever achieve a single economy.

He argued that since a supra-national executive authority was unattainable, a revised Treaty of Chaguaramas amended to accommodate the less developed economies in the region was required. He was critical of trade imbalances, suggesting Trinidad was drawing the most from the integration process.

On free movement, PM Gonsalves said that the region had to be honest and accept that the domestic populations of the OECS and Barbados were never going to agree while unemployment remained high elsewhere.

In subsequent remarks, Mr Golding made a different case. He suggested that all economic integration mechanisms expected to see winners and losers but that it was probable that no Caricom country-by-country impact assessment had ever been undertaken on issues such as macroeconomic convergence, the free movement of people, and the free circulation of goods.

The failure of the CSME to progress to its ultimate goal, he suggested, had, therefore, at its root, deep unarticulated misgivings that full implementation was likely to do more harm than good. What was required, he argued, was an analysis that would lead to informed conclusions enabling governments either to "get on with it with the necessary urgency and enthusiasm or to say plainly to the Caribbean people: 'look, it is not going to work'".

More recently still, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who, from July 1, assumes the pro tempore chairmanship of Caricom, said in a parliamentary debate that the ultimate goal of the review was "to undertake a long-overdue forensic analysis of Caricom's structure, procedures, and practices" in order to maximise the benefits and to inform the region.

In an apparent reflection of changing regional political dynamics and divisions within his own Cabinet, he also made it clear that Jamaica has no intention of leaving the Community.

Whether a regional consensus exists to agree to either the type of radical restructuring of the CSME that Dr Gonsalves wishes to see or to adopt the recommendations contained in the Golding report, which Jamaica's Parliament has now adopted, is far from certain.

If past actions are any guide to the future, what this may mean is that Heads, unable to agree, could call instead for in-depth studies on the impact that full implementation of the CSME might have, or even a new commission to study the issues, while seeking to make the Caricom Secretariat more administratively accountable.

If this is the conclusion, it will push back further the delivery of fundamental reform, and as with the Ramphal Commission before, set aside the new thinking that has emerged, placing the CSME back on the road to nowhere.

It could be argued that this is simply an accurate expression of the realpolitik of a divided region, which largely is in neither a good nor bad place economically and is still, thankfully, exempt from the political volatility, strident nationalism, and authoritarianism emerging elsewhere.

However, such an outcome would do nothing to deliver in the immediate future any observable social or economic gain for Caribbean citizens, particularly the young; better relate the CSME to the needs of the private sector; or take the region much beyond platitudes, suggesting that 'something must be done'.

Nor would it address how to legally encompass the organic economic drift that in the years ahead is likely to draw some Caricom states towards wanting to deepen trade by varying tariffs for geographically proximate nations either because they represent a more natural economic fit or because this will be the cost of new arrangements on energy, security, or other issues.

It would suggest that if reform does not happen soon, all that will be left will be a regional identity, sentiment, the continuing departure of the Caribbean's most able, and 15 Hobbesian states seeking nationalistic advantage in ways that undercut the interests of their neighbours.

I hope I am proved wrong; that Caricom Heads this week can be honest and inspire; that Barbados' new prime minister, Mia Mottley, will be able to invigorate her colleagues' thinking; and that an outcome that publicly identifies the necessary steps to reform emerges alongside agreed objectives and a timetable. I am not holding my breath.

- David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council. david.jessop@caribbean-council.org