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Editorial | Why not the CAIC, Mr Scott?

Published:Tuesday | December 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If you dial the telephone number listed on the website of the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC), as this newspaper has done, you will probably get a recording asking that you leave your name and return number and a promise "to get back to you within 18 hours".

That is hardly what you expect of an organisation that purports to be the umbrella body of regional private groups and firms aimed at creating a "Caribbean private sector that is internationally competitive and cohesive in its approach to dealing with opportunities and challenges".

We would not be surprised, in the circumstance, if the CAIC was overlooked by people in the private sector who see themselves and their businesses as important partners in the region's economic and social development and are keen on having a representative body to articulate their interests and to act as interlocutor with Caribbean governments and allied institutions. Which, on the face of it, appears to be the case with the proposed Caribbean Business Council (CBC), about which regional private-sector leaders met in Kingston last week and of which the Jamaican businessman, P.B. Scott, seems to have emerged as the leading spokesman and promoter.

Speaking at that Jamaica conference, Mr Scott, the chairman and CEO of the Musson Group, placed the proposed CBC in the context of the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) planned advance to a genuine single market and economy and the undertaking to the regional grouping's treaty to facilitate this expansion, including, over time, the free movement of labour.

Not only has the region been slow in giving full expression to these arrangements, but according to Mr Scott, the private sector has not generally fully embraced them.

Part of the problem, all round, as the former Jamaican prime minister, Bruce Golding, observed, is the fragmentation of interests. Regional governments, in accordance with what they perceive to be their best, or the public interest, pursue policies that are not necessarily in concert with those of the private sector. And in the absence of a unified private sector, they feel little pressure to respond to the concerns of these stakeholders.

Fragmentation, therefore, affords governments, as Mr Golding put it, "a free ride".

 

PROMOTING THAT VISION

 

This need to coordinate private-sector policy in the Caribbean has greater import against the backdrop of the development of CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic), which, nearly a decade ago, entered a free trade agreement with the European Union. That arrangement is already being stressed by Brexit, or the UK's imminent withdrawal from the EU. It is more urgent, therefore, that the regional private sector has a clear fix on the agenda it wants pursued - at the domestic levels and how Caribbean governments engage with international partners.

The CAIC may not be up to the task of articulating and promoting that vision. At the same time, given the decade-long attempt at gestation, the proposed Caribbean Business Council is hardly a poster child for speed and energetic engagement. In any event, there is need to attempt a reinvention of the wheel. A resuscitation and revitalisation of the CAIC is probably more rational and feasible.

There was a time when the CAIC was not only relevant, but vibrant. It was its advocacy, in the late 1960s, as the West Indies Incorporated Chambers of Commerce, that galvanised regional governments to create CARICOM's forerunner, the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA). And in the 1980s into the early 1990s, with Guyanese Pat Thompson as its executive director, it was an articulate champion for the Caribbean private sector. It can be that again, with, if P.B. Scott is interested, the right leadership.