CARICOM’s Integration Journey: not all gloom and doom

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Today, Sunday, July 4, is CARICOM Day. Another milestone is also marked – the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas

By Elizabeth Morgan

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is a regional integration process of 14 independent Member States and Montserrat which is still a British dependent territory.  Collectively, the Community has a population of about 18.4 million people with a gross domestic product (GDP) per annum of an estimated US$90.1 billion. The World Bank classifies CARICOM countries as middle-income with only Haiti classified as least developed. The vulnerability of these mainly small island developing states to natural and man-made disasters is an acknowledged reality.

The Community is intended to integrate the economies and peoples within the region to promote trade and development.

The experiment to establish a British West Indian Federation lasted from 1958-1962, but this was not the end of the idea of regional integration. In 1965, with the support of the private sector, through the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC), negotiations began to establish the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) to promote intra-regional trade. The Dickenson Bay Agreement was signed and took effect in 1968.

Establishment of CARICOM

In the 1970s, change was on the horizon as Britain’s third attempt, in 1969, to join the European Economic Community (EEC) was successful and its EEC membership becoming effective on January 1, 1973. Britain joining the EEC paved the way for its former colonies, including those in the Caribbean, to enter into a trade and development relationship with the EEC. This was among the motivating factors for the CARIFTA Members to move towards deeper integration and to become a community and common market thus cooperating more widely as a single unit.

Signing of CARICOM Agreement

At the 7th CARIFTA Heads of Government Conference in October 1972, they decided to establish the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The Agreement was approved at the 8th Heads Conference in Georgetown, Guyana. The Agreement was signed by the then four (4) independent CARIFTA Members, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, at a ceremony in Chaguaramas, Trinidad, on July 4, 1973. It became effective for them in August 1973. It was to take effect for the remaining CARIFTA Members on May 1, 1974. The Agreement became known as the Treaty of Chaguaramas and July 4 has been commemorated as CARICOM Day.

The Bahamas became a member in 1983 but opted not to join the Common Market. Suriname joined in 1995 and Haiti became a full member in 2002. Other still dependent territories, such as the Cayman Islands, later became associate members.

CARICOM Member States, with other former colonies of the EEC, would create the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States with the signing of the Georgetown Agreement in 1975. The ACP would negotiate its first Lomé Convention with the EEC.

Becoming a Customs Union

To become a common market/customs union, requires that the Member States negotiate and establish a Common External Tariff (CET). This means that the regional internal free trade zone would be protected by common import duties (tariffs) with its external trading partners. They started to implement regional CET in 1992.

The Revised Treaty of Chaguramas

By the end of the 1980s, the focus of the international community was on globalization and liberalization, the CARICOM Members then felt that to respond to this changing environment, the region needed to further deepen and strengthen its integration in all its dimensions. At the 10th Meeting of CARICOM Heads at Grand Anse in Grenada in July 1989, they adopted the Grand Anse Declaration setting out a 4 year work programme which would lead to the amendment of the Treaty. This would set the framework for the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The negotiations continued through the 1990s resulting in nine (9) protocols which became chapters of the amended Treaty.

The Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed on July 5, 2001 at the 22nd Conference of CARICOM Heads in Nassau, Bahamas. It was ratified by 12 Members by 2004.

The CSME was formally launched at a meeting in Kingston, Jamaica on January 30, 2006. It commenced with Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. These countries joined the Single Market on January 1, 2006. Others were to join by March 31, 2006. The aim was to have the CSME implemented by 2008. The Bahamas opted not to join the CSME as it had done with the Common Market.

In 2021, 20 years on, the CSME is still not fully implemented, remaining a work in progress.

Institutional Structure

The implementation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas would take place through the following institutional structure: The Conference of Heads (the highest decision making body); the Community Council of Ministers; and the principal organs – the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), the Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), and the Council for Finance and Planning (COFAP). Of course, the CARICOM Secretariat, the administrative arm, is located in Georgetown, Guyana.

There are several Community institutions, such as the Caribbean Examination Council, established under Article 21 as off shoots of CARICOM. Under Article 22, there are regional institutions which are associated with CARICOM, these include the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The newest one is the CARICOM Private Sector Organization (CPSO).

CARICOM’s Achievements

In July 2020, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in assuming the chairmanship of CARICOM, noted that while there were challenges, the Community had chalked up impressive achievements in its four pillars of integration – coordination of foreign policy, functional cooperation, security collaboration, and economic integration.

Much ink has been used in addressing CARICOM’s short-comings, primarily its delay in establishing the CSME. I refer you to my article in the Gleaner of Wednesday, June 30 – “CARICOM: Transition and Reflection”. Today, I want to highlight some areas of achievements.

In foreign policy, recall that CARICOM Member States are not required to harmonize their foreign policies but to coordinate to the extent practicable. CARICOM, however, is a recognized and respected regional grouping of small states. A number of countries accredit diplomatic representatives to the Community. CARICOM collectively has 14 votes at the United Nations. It has observer status at the United Nations and at the Committee on Trade and Development of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. It is represented on the Bureau of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The international community appreciates CARICOM as a bloc. At its annual regular Conference of Heads of Government, high-level guests from countries and international organizations have been engaged. The group, has had ongoing high-level consultations with Canada, USA, Britain, Japan, South Korea, India, Mexico, and Cuba, among others. The region meets with the European Union as CARIFORUM which includes the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

In capitals where CARICOM Member States have diplomatic and consular representation, the Ambassadors and Consuls General collaborate regularly as a caucus to address issues of common interest and to strategize.

In international organizations and conferences, the region coordinates its positions, speaking with one voice, and forms alliances with other groups, such as the Group of 77 and China, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the ACP, and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), to further advance its interests.

Within the Community to promote good governance, CARICOM also fields election observer missions in Members holding general elections.

There is the view that functional cooperation is the most successful pillar of CARICOM.  Nineteen (19) Community institutions work with Member States in a number of fields, including renewable energy, security, telecommunications, climate change, meteorology, standards and quality, agriculture, fisheries, among others. We know of the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) through its work to replace British examinations with ones developed in the Caribbean – the Caribbean Secondary Education (CSEC) examinations and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE). The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CEDEMA) coordinates disaster preparedness and relief. It mobilizes to support countries affected by hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), promotes health and wellness, and has been very active in this COVID-19 pandemic. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which has responsibility for interpreting the Revised Treaty, is also considered a CARICOM success in its original jurisdiction. And, much more could be enumerated.

So, while there are serious challenges, the Community has had successes through the years and, in assessing its work, we all need to acknowledge that it has not been all gloom and doom.

Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics

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