Elizabeth Morgan | CARICOM Heads: Still in slow motion
“The reality is that we have everything to support each other in the economy, single market, movement of goods and persons, and connectivity. But the processes to facilitate this are going very slowly. Despite progress in some areas of regional cooperation, we are still far from achieving the stated goals.” President Chan Santokhi, Suriname, chair of CARICOM.
Reviewing the Communiqué of the 43rd CARICOM Heads of Government Conference, held in Suriname, July 3-5, did not leave me feeling inspired. As CARICOM chairman, President Chan Santokhi of Suriname, said in his statement at the opening ceremony, the region is still too far from achieving its stated goals.
My first surprise was that not more countries had signed the Protocol to Amend the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas establishing the Caribbean Community, including the CARICOM Single Market and Economy to allow for enhanced cooperation among member states and to address related issues (Enhanced Cooperation Protocol). At this meeting, it was ratified by Barbados and signed by Saint Lucia. At the Intersessional Heads Meeting in Belize in March, four countries, Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Grenada, had signed. Considering that heads at the 42nd Session in Antigua and Barbuda had agreed to the St John’s Declaration on Rededication to CSME Implementation, I would have expected more countries to have signed.
In the discussions on the CSME, it was evident that little progress had been made on the free movement of workers, specifically in the new categories which had been agreed. For these categories, household domestics, agricultural workers and private security officers, heads were just now agreeing on definitions and qualifications. Heads of Government were again expressing disappointment at the slow pace of implementation of CSME and committing to take immediate steps to make progress.
On advancing the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems agenda, there seems to be more progress with a majority of member states developing and submitting national targets to meet the 25 per cent reduction in regional food export bill by 2025. The Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) is to conclude, by the end of July, various initiatives and programmes, aimed at the removal of non-tariff barriers to intra-regional trade. The CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO) is to accelerate implementation of various agricultural investment projects. It seems that 19 potential investment opportunities for displacing extra-regional agri-food imports have been identified. Heads endorsed the Action Plan and Outcome Statement of the CARICOM Agri-Investment Forum and Expo held in Guyana from 19-21 May, 2022. They also welcomed the Draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the establishment of a Regional Youth in Agriculture Advisory Mechanism ensuring youth participation and inclusion is accounted for in all efforts towards achieving the 25 per cent/2025 goal. Another Agri-Investment Forum is to be held in Trinidad and Tobago from 19-21 August 2022.
There is to be continuing discussions on an enhanced transportation system, which is a critically important matter in the region for movement of people and goods. Working groups have been established to provide project oversight, which include establishing a traditional ferry and fast ferry service for passengers and cargo for the region. Studies for ferry services, it seems, have been ongoing for a while. Air transport needs urgent attention.
DEVELOPING AN INDUSTRIAL POLICY STRATEGY
On energy security, more studies and proposals were on the table as heads considered and approved a paper on Economic Development and Energy Transition and Climate Change as the region’s overarching strategy in advancing energy security. They will pursue energy diversification into LNG and fertiliser for agriculture, and will develop the renewable energy sector through building infrastructure for regional power generation. They will also be engaging with the USA to enable resumption of their bilateral relationship with Venezuela through Petrocaribe.
The region will also begin to focus on developing an industrial policy strategy. Suriname is now the head responsible for industrial policy, which is part of the Revised Treaty (Policies for Sectoral Development) requiring implementation. Chairman Santohki told the conference that he intended to advance the contours of a Caribbean Industrial Policy during his chairmanship.
Among other agenda items, the heads also considered climate change, security and community governance, which aims to facilitate more effective decision-making and implementation of the Community agenda.
After going through the Communiqué, while there are positives, I was still left wondering when we will actually see concrete deliverables, moving from studies, papers, working groups, and proposals, to actual completed actions.
The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of CARICOM will start at the 34th Intersessional Meeting of Heads scheduled for the Bahamas in February 2023. Will we see even one or two deliverables in 2023, demonstrating a commitment to implementation and moving CARICOM beyond a talk shop?
The chairman, during his address, made some interesting proposals and called for action now. How will our leaders respond in the next six months? In this time of crises, our leaders need to demonstrate their commitment to regional integration.
Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org