Kai-Ann Skeete | Revisiting the Caricom Single Domestic Space
The 32nd intersessional meeting of the heads of Caricom governments ends today, February 24. This regular meeting will allow regional leaders to further collaborate and discuss a plethora of topics, namely the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, CSME implementation, regional security, reparations, new United States-Caricom relations, and economic recovery, inclusive of solutions to increase resilience and redesign regional tourism.
To our prime ministers and presidents, I say, going forward, the battle to rebuild and revitalise your respective territories will not be easy. The data points to the regional risks on the horizon, such as prolonged economic stagnation, livelihood crises, youth disillusionment, the erosion of social cohesion, and the ever-increasing digital inequality regionally.
Geopolitically, you have to be cognisant of any potential activities that could further erode the base of your state, and be prepared to arm your best negotiators and ambassadors with all available expertise to build strong and contemporary arguments supporting the cause of multilateralism as integral to our existence as small island states within the global arena.
To compound the scenario, there is an increasing number of regional citizens disagreeing with the credible sources of scientific evidence on the efficacy of vaccines necessary to jump-start national livelihoods, so your government must be prepared to prevent any additional backlash against science.
The impact of the global pandemic on the region has severely disrupted global supply chains. The average regional consumer has come to grips with the reality of food insecurity nationally, where they are confronted with empty supermarket shelves, discontinued products by distributors, farmers with a surplus of agricultural produce, and manufacturers willing to dump raw materials due to the unavailability of a ready market.
From March 2020 to now, the region has had to grapple with the transformation of transient forms of poverty into chronic poverty and, in the near future, an increase in cases of abject poverty which may serve to significantly roll back our regional gains.
Prime ministers and presidents, over the years of pursuing Caribbean integration, several regional decisions were agreed but with no follow-up national action. Oftentimes, it has been blamed on an implementation deficit and lack of political will. But it is in times of crisis that we reflect, we introspect, and we project for the future.
Your citizens have already paved the way for your collective action. Unable to secure a consistent livelihood outside their doors, several householders started looking inwards. They started at home and initiated DIY projects, they developed home/backyard gardens, and they reconnected with their immediate neighbours and recreated that community spirit.
I propose it is time to cascade it up and outwards to our Caribbean community. Evidence-based decisions must now support difficult conversations with all in our community as to what is required and by when, so the Caribbean can increase our individual, economic, social, infrastructural and environmental resilience to these crises.
After all, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that high winds, long hours of rainfall or severe flooding are not the only phenomena that can completely devastate our economies and decimate livelihoods. It has shown that by extensively opening borders viruses creep in like parasites on suitcase wheels, and when we least expect it.
As a region, we already have best practices for natural disasters, but we are now in uncharted waters and we need to collectively conceptualise and design a regional response to COVID-19 that involves increasing intraregional agricultural trade, increasing the resilience of MSMEs, and increase the number of regional citizens accessing regional tourism products.
But that is not a reason to raise the white flag and surrender to the pandemic. Now is the time to directly confront past regional inaction and arrest the deficits plaguing the community. Let us start with reopening the Caribbean by utilising the CSDS – the Caricom Single Domestic Space.
The CSDS was initiated for the nine host countries and Dominica as part of the International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup 2007. It included security components such as the advance passenger information system, advance cargo information system, and a Caricom travel card with embedded biometrics. Together these security components can assist with national trade facilitation efforts and increasing the efficiency of the movement of goods and people across regional borders.
Looking inwards again, when COVID-19 caused the immediate cessation of intraregional flights, the region saw the immediate repurposing of the Regional Security System aircraft, which delivered vital supplies and even the recent vaccines to several islands within the community. The community needs a permanent network of transportation options to connect countries and deliver vital supplies. Perhaps the establishment of an intraregional airline not driven by profit or laden with taxes may be the answer to increasing intraregional movement and intraregional trade, especially agricultural trade.
As we face the eventual post-COVID-19 future together, let us decide to utilise new international measurements rather than the systemically flawed GDP-per-capita assessment to determine levels of development. I recommend the adoption of the UNCTAD Productive Capacities Index, the PCI, which is the first comprehensive attempt to measure a country’s productive resources, entrepreneurial capabilities and production linkages which together determine the capacity of a country to produce goods and services, and enable it to grow and develop.
The PCI utilises eight components of productive capacities and its scales range from zero to 100, with 100 being the top score. The PCI scores for the region in 2016 were: energy, 25.35; human capital, 47.37; ICTs, 12.73; institutions, 58.43; natural capital, 45.82; private sector, 79.14; structural change, 17.45; and transport, 25.98.
It is most noteworthy that the PCI for the private sector was the highest average among 11 Caricom countries. This score represents the cost of shipping an inbound or outbound container and lead times to export or import goods, among other items.
Prime ministers and presidents, if there is one lesson that everyone has learnt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that individual as well as national resilience requires some form of adaptability, accompanied by the capacity to innovate. Now is the time to design plans to increase economic growth, industrial policies, increase innovative capabilities, increase local entrepreneurship, and reinsert regional products into global value chains.
All in all, the future of regional economic progress lies within your grasp. It is simply time for regional action. I will conclude with the words of an old African proverb: “If you walk alone you go faster, but if you walk together, you go farther.”
Dr Kai-Ann Skeete is trade research fellow with the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy & Services, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados.firstname.lastname@example.org