Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Editorial | A CARICOM lifeline

Published:Wednesday | March 24, 2021 | 8:40 AM

There have been many reports, studies and analyses that have compelling cases for regional integration and for the existence of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). None, however, can have done so more succinctly, or matched the logic of integration with what are, on the face of it, practical – if in some cases radical – pathways to economic recovery and growth, than the one recently submitted to CARICOM’s heads of government by a commission chaired by the development economist and financial analyst Avinash Persaud.

Against this backdrop, it is important that the CARICOM Secretariat acts with dispatch in fulfilling the mandate from the heads of government for the drafting of implementation plans for consideration at their July summit. At the same time, Dr Persaud and his fellow commissioners should move speedily to, as the heads of government recommended, “facilitate a region-wide debate on the recommendations within the context of the economic challenges and prospects for the community”.

This newspaper places significant store on this engagement for several reasons beyond the inherent logic of integration. First, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ravages it has caused to Caribbean economies clearly adds urgency to the report, as well as enhances the legitimacy of its commissioning. Further, there is an obviously deepening consensus among the governments and policymakers that none of their countries can ensure full, long-term recovery on its own, and without international support. And the best way to galvanise the global response to the Caribbean crisis is by CARICOM acting together.

In this regard, the commission of several leading Caribbean and international figures – including the recently installed director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and one of her predecessors, Pascal Lamy – perhaps have stunned CARICOM governments with their recommendation that the requirement for the ‘free’ movement of people in CARICOM for work – available to university graduates and people in a handful of professions – be opened to anyone with more than two Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects.

LOWERING OF THRESHOLD

They explained: “This appears to be a marked lowering of the threshold, but it is a woeful fact that more than two-thirds of our school-leavers do not have this qualification. Maybe this new rule would encourage more high-school students to see obtaining a couple of CSECs as a viable route to opportunity. Equally important, however, is that we propose that those that have this qualification do not need any specially obtained documentation other than electronic verification that they do. All a CARICOM national needs to show an immigration official, or any other to assert their rights, is their mobile phone with a secure certificate from CXC, or, in the future, this information could be embedded in machine-readable passports, perhaps using blockchain technology.”

The commission made clear, however, that increased mobility has to “go hand in hand with our other recommendations around raising skills and broadening economic enfranchisement”, such as their proposals for fast ferry travel for people and goods; a single-market digital economy; and investment to building resilience in a region prone to natural disasters.

Very critical for this newspaper, though, is the commissioners’ full-throated promotion of the idea – floated in the past as a mechanism to break CARICOM’s logjam of inaction, but never robustly debated – of a two-speed community: allowing those countries that are ready to proceed with an agreed initiative to do so and the others to catch up later. The recommendation is that a minimum of five countries or a third of the community could embark on a policy under this arrangement. That, potentially, could jump-start the stalled efforts towards transforming CARICOM into a genuine single market and economy – the CSME.

SECOND BEST

“Enhanced cooperation is mostly ‘second best’, not as good as everyone starting off together at the beginning, but it is better than not starting at all,” the commissioners say in their report. “Variable speeds on a limited set of issues can get us moving again. Many of the CSME decisions that are stuck today have been stuck for a while even though a majority of member states are in agreement, and were they to press forward, it would cause no harm to the others.”

That quotation captures the essential texture and the tone of the report, and underlines why we believe that it should be urgently put before, and discussed with, the people of the Caribbean – the stakeholders of CARICOM. While the report addresses substantive issues and places on the table big, cross-border initiatives to create strong, resilient regional economies, it is largely shorn of jargon and technical obscuration that usually make outsiders of people who ought to be at the centre of the process.

In other words, this report is accessible. If the engagement is right, accessibility enhances the possibility of citizens seeing themselves as party to, and owners of, the process of transformation. It is in these circumstances that governments really have unrestricted mandates to act.