Editorial | We back dual-track CARICOM
Our long-standing commitment to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) a single, indivisible unit notwithstanding, this newspaper endorses the recommendation that the community run on multiple tracks as a way around its implementation paralysis and to give the region a better shot at economic advancement.
While this idea is not entirely new, its suggestion at this time of economic crisis gives it appeal and timeliness, especially if viewed in the context of its potential for facilitating action on initiatives proposed by the commission that CARICOM’s leaders asked for ideas to drive sustained, long-term growth in the region.
The group, chaired by Barbados-born Avinash Persaud, and including some of the Caribbean and the world’s leading thinkers on economic development, presented its report to Caribbean heads of government late last year. As we noted in these columns previously, it broke ground for the simplicity and clarity with which it presented substantial but doable schemes while capturing the urgency of the moment.
CARICOM, inclusive of its predecessor, the Caribbean Free Trade Area (Carifta), is more than half a century old. While it has had successes in areas of functional cooperation, it hasn’t made a fundamental economic breakthrough. The Caribbean remains a low, middle-income region saddled with high levels of debt. Intra-regional trade among its 15 members meanders in the low double digits as a percentage of the community’s total trade, while efforts over the last decade and a half to transform the community into a single market and economy (CSME) have faltered badly. Countries often agree to initiatives but don’t follow through or implement only in half measure. Indeed, CARICOM’s implementation deficit has become almost a term of art for the region.
The Persaud Commission offers two solutions around this logjam. One is the idea of subsidiarity – leaving the centre, in this case CARICOM, to handle only those matters which it must while moving decision-making down to others, at the level of member states, where actions taken are likely to be more in line with circumstances and implemented with greater efficiency. The other, as perhaps a more significant suggestion for jump-starting the CSME, is what the commissioners call “enhanced cooperation”.
As they explained in the report, in a project such as the CSME, there are some things that are best done internationally and “some that need to be done collectively at the same time”. However, there are others that could still work without all members being early on board “if a critical number of countries set off first in an advance party”.
Said the commission: “There are initiatives, for instance, that some would join, but only if others, more enthusiastically, have shown that it works first. Matters that would be done under enhanced cooperation would still be discussed and debated at CARICOM and marshalled by the CARICOM Secretariat so that all are involved, just not all starting at the same time.”
Their suggestion that a minimum of five members, or a third of the community, be the quorum for “enhanced cooperation” initiatives – this ratio would be similar to what is required in the European Union (EU) when this system is used.
REMOVE CAUSE FOR COMPLAINT
There is no certainty that this multitrack facilitation of “coalitions of the willing” will work. It would, however, remove a cause for complaint, assuming that they can muster a critical mass, from members who gripe about being constrained by community slowpokes. For instance, five members could agree to implement the commission’s recommendations to allow people with more than three Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects to move freely in the region for work. Others who may fear their labour markets being overwhelmed would observe the process until they either voluntarily join the scheme or become party to the arrangement under time-lapse agreements.
Our sense is that this system should suit Jamaica, whose Government was not too long ago pushing for a speedier implementation of the CSME and appeared sympathetic to recommendations that Kingston withdraw from the community if nothing happened. Giving legal effect to a multitrack CARICOM would, on the face of it, require only minimal adjustment of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, especially relating to decision-making by the heads of government at their summits, as well as in the various ministerial councils.
In the meantime, Jamaica should be identifying the stalled initiatives with which it wants to proceed and engaging potential coalition partners. The Holness administration should also engage stakeholders in a full discussion of the proposal.
In the event, the idea, if agreed to, shouldn’t be all that strange to CARICOM. After all, while The Bahamas is ostensibly a full member of CARICOM, it isn’t part of the community’s trade and single-market arrangements. That doesn’t seem to create complications. Further, the regional subgroup, the seven-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the near neighbour, Barbados, appear likely to be natural, early beneficiaries of any such arrangement.