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Editorial: Cuba demands new thinking from CARICOM

Published:Tuesday | July 21, 2015 | 7:00 AM

We have been surprised by the seeming absence of urgency, or serious application, with which Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have responded to important foreign political and economy policy shifts by the Obama administration, including yesterday's formal restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. Having upgraded their interest sections, both countries, after 54 years, now officially have embassies in each other's capital.

Yesterday's events won't suddenly mean a normalisation of Cuba's relations with the United States, or an immediate end to an economic blockade of their country by America. For while President Barack Obama, by executive action, has unfrozen some elements of economic relations and has made it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, there are some fundamental things that require the action of Congress, and there are many conservatives, mainly Republicans, in both Houses of the legislature, who will resist the effort.

It is nonetheless clear that the US is on an inexorable path. They might not much like Cuba's political arrangements but, as they have done with China and Vietnam, will accommodate them even as they advocate for change. Fundamentally, the driver for America's wider embrace of Mr Obama's Cuba policy will be economics - the opportunity for American firms to trade with and, ultimately, invest in Cuba and make profit.

But even with the thaw, political circumstances will prevent the US entering the kind of economic and market alliance with Cuba that it has been attempting to develop with other groups and countries in the hemisphere. At the same time, however, improved Cuba-US relations open opportunities for Jamaica and CARICOM.

Cuba is already undertaking market reforms. The emerging Washington-Havana rapprochement with the US will ease the psychological barrier from the rest of the world to investment in Cuba. CARICOM, with its decade-and-a-half-old free-trade agreement with Cuba, in some respects, has a head start on other regional players to exploit possibilities that might extend themselves.

 

CSME on pause

But there are potentially larger gains to be exploited, as has been posited, though not yet widely discussed, by former Barbadian prime minister, Owen Arthur. As Mr Arthur has noted, the CARICOM single market and economic project has been largely on pause since the global meltdown of 2008. Regional economies, though not yet recovered from that crisis, are facing new challenges. Global economies are shifting to new modes of production while new and expanding trade and economic groupings are emerging, offering greater economic leverage for partners. The Trans-Pacific Partnership that the United States is negotiating with Asian countries is an example.

CARICOM, however, remains a group of small and vulnerable economies that are without geopolitical levers that were available during the Cold War. Perhaps, as Mr Arthur suggested, the time is opportune for the Community to review its structure by, for a start, inviting Cuba to membership, and then the Dominican Republic, if it can settle its political issues with Haiti and others.

Jamaica, as the political leader of CARICOM, and good friend of Cuba, is not a bad place to start such a discussion.