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Time To Transform The CSME And CARICOM

By David Jessop

News Americas, LONDON, England, Fri. Nov. 15, 2019:   In
the last few days Barbados’ Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, has reiterated her
belief that to progress the region must make the Caribbean Single Market and
Economy, (CSME) fit for purpose.

Ms. Motley suggested that if the
region is not to be marginalized, CARICOM’s governance structure needs to
change, more frequent meetings of CARICOM heads and ministerial sub-committees
should be held to speed up the pace of implementation, and her fellow leaders
should, in this respect, consider following the lead of European Heads of
Government. She also encouraged the private sector to play a much greater and
more active role in regional decision making, planning and implementation.

Days earlier, the President of the
Caribbean Development Bank. (CDB), Dr Warren Smith, had said something similar,
albeit in the context of the international business and financial services
sector. A coordinated regional approach was required, he said, if the region
was to reap the full benefits of its financial services sector.

His remarks were critical of
Caribbean states that had not stayed on message when it came to agreed
political responses to European and US criticism of the region’s anti-money
laundering measures and its citizenship by investment programs.

The Caribbean was being portrayed
as a ‘high-risk’ environment, he observed, but some nations “still seem
undergirded by individual and reactionary responses to what essentially is a
regional threat.” The region, he argued, should be less defensive and focus
more on policies that are strategic, long term and sustainable.

The CDB’s President also called for
the region’s private sector to play a greater role in leading research, shaping
regulatory codes, rules and operating procedures and advising on policy
coordination and the mitigation of threats.

Both Prime Minister Mottley and Dr
Smith, in different ways, were making the point that the Anglophone part of the
region cannot hope to succeed economically without a genuine commitment to
unity, implementing a common regulatory environment, and the private sector
playing a more central role.

Unfortunately, this is easier to
say than achieve. Despite the unassailable logic of governments delivering what
they have agreed politically, national interests and economics may no longer
make regional unity, rapid results, or a fully functioning CSME achievable.

Despite years of regional meetings,
consultations, debate, and exhortation, CARICOM remains as weak as its least
engaged member states. Moreover, the Anglophone Caribbean has yet to reconcile
its understandably deep attachment to regionalism and identity with the much
harder edged pragmatism, compromise and trust required to deliver viable trade
and economic solutions.

Put more prosaically, governments
are now less willing to cede sovereignty, trust each other, or grant CARICOM or
its institutions even a modicum of executive power, while much of the private
sector is happy anyway to operate profitably, if not optimally.

In contrast, although Europe’s far
from perfect values-based integration model is heavy, bureaucratic, expensive
and wasteful, all European governments and their private sectors know, whether
they like it or not, failure to engage fully in policy development and its
formulation results in enforceable regulations that may damage their national
or corporate bottom line.

Why European Heads of government
are prepared to meet relatively frequently and Europe’s subsidiary ministerial
councils function well, is because many years ago Europe’s governments ceded
both by Treaty and in their domestic laws, a high degree of decision taking and
implementing powers to the European Commission, Europe’s permanent executive
arm.

It is this, plus a web of
management and oversight involving politically appointed commissioners and vice
presidents, the European Parliament, and paid-up national budgetary
commitments, which have enabled delivery, and the EU to become one of the
world’s economic powerhouses.

In comparison, the CSME remains
imperfect when it comes to delivery.

Its functioning continues to beg
many questions. For example, why should youth care about regionalism when
despite their willingness to embrace their Caribbean identity they continue
face difficulties in freely transporting their skills and talents across the
region? Why should anyone worry about the Common External Tariff when tariffs
on imported sugar are waived to support food and soft drink manufacturers? And
why, over a year after it was agreed to, no results-based management report as
required by Heads has yet emerged from the CARICOM Secretariat?

All too often decisions are set
aside or ignored in the face of national self-interest, inter-island rivalry
and historic resentments: traits not helped by the absence of a single strong
well-led and funded regional single private sector organization capable of
influencing the delivery of outcomes that benefit the region as a whole.

To make matters worse regional
integration scarcely touches civil society and makes little difference to most
Caribbean companies which remain insular and tied to their domestic markets.

Ms. Motley’s analysis and her
continuing commitment to vigorously engage her fellow Heads on what is required
to make the CSME work is important as is her previously stated belief that the
regional integration process must make “a definable difference” and be citizen
centric.

However, it is hard to imagine how
this is to be achieved without a fundamental structural change in the nature of
regional governance or the willingness to cede economic sovereignty. It may
also require a fundamental change in the way the region thinks about itself.

If the modern Caribbean is
fundamentally a cultural construct based on shared historic experience
translated into a consensus on post emancipation, post-colonial and post-independence
objectives, this may not be enough to fulfil the needs of economic development
in a rapidly changing would.

Unless such commonality of purpose
can be transformed into institutions able to deliver economic integration in a
manner that is rules based, adhered to by all, but flexible and pragmatic, it
is hard to escape the conclusion that Caribbean unity will remain fragile.

These of course are matters that only the Caribbean people and their elected leaders can resolve. But one fervently hopes the Caribbean as a region can respond to Dr . Smith and Prime Minister’s Mottley’s challenge to deliver a more unified and bright future.  
david-jessop

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org.

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