When Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders convene in Montego Bay today, they should perhaps be honest with themselves to declare, as one of their numbers has concluded, their inability to provide "serious leadership" to the integration process.
Should they so decide, the next step is obvious: disband the community and allow its 15 members to find their own way in the world. Or, if they desire, form alliances with alternative trade and economic organisations.
This is not a position that this newspaper has arrived at lightly, for we, like the conceptualisers of CARICOM, and the millions of people who have invested much hope in the institution, understand the logic of integration. But logic is one thing; its application is another. It is on the latter front that, for nearly four decades, we have failed.
As a concept and treaty, CARICOM was, and remains, an excellent idea - as a single market, to be transformed into a seamless economy and as a functional cooperation and economic grouping. It has had some successes, mainly on the political front.
But in its 36 years, CARICOM has failed to plan, contrive, or achieve an economic breakthrough. In those countries that have enjoyed relative success, it has had little to do with their membership of CARICOM. And as the Vincentian prime minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, has observed, it has been primarily a failure of leadership.
"We have not been having serious leadership in CARICOM," he said. The organisation has no effective implementation mechanism, nor are there penalities for reneging on undertakings. So, leaders come to summits like the one being convened today, talk a lot, arrive at decisions and give undertakings which, for the most part, are never fulfilled.
We, like the majority of Caribbean people, including, apparently, Dr Gonsalves, are frustrated by this abject leadership and waste of promise. So, if those heads of government who are gathered in Montego Bay are serious about CARICOM and wish the region's support, they must provide bankable assurances that they will mend their ways.
A few things are critical, starting with the establishment of a genuine undertaking to play by the rules, with regard to intraregional trade.
CARICOM is supposedly a seamless market. Yet, while Jamaica maintains an open market for goods and services from its partners, several members, including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Belize, maintain non-tariff barriers to our exports as well as opaque value-added arrangements that allow them to circumvent origin rules. Port-of-Spain, too, unfairly, in our view, denies national treatment to its partners with regard to energy supplies, thus giving its own manufacturers an unfair advantage in this seamless market.
Additionally, the leaders must finally agree on a system that gives executive authority to a supranational body to ensure imple-mentation of decisions taken by heads of government. There has to be an accommodation of shared sovereignty.
The leaders must set a timetable for implementation of what, essentially, are old ideas. Should they not be able to muster the courage to do what is necessary to make CARICOM work, they should end the charade and put aside ambition for a seamless market and economy.
Or, they can opt for an asymmetrical group where countries of like minds, with the "serious leadership", proceed with the vision.
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