Economic integration at core of regional integration – CARICOM Secretary-General

CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett delivering the lecture

CARICOM’s recent experience at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that economic integration is at the core of the regional integration process to which the other pillars – foreign policy coordination, human and social development, and security cooperation – are aligned.

Delivering the Second Distinguished Owen Arthur Memorial Lecture on Monday at the UWI Cave Hill Campus, CARICOM Secretary-General, Dr. Carla Barnett, pointed out that over the past two years, CARICOM has functioned as a “highly collaborative mechanism.” She pointed to the collaboration among regional institutions and national agencies to monitor the evolution of the pandemic, coordinate information-sharing within the Community and with the international/bilateral organisations.

“We coordinated access to vaccines through bilateral and international programmes – and shared vaccines among ourselves – in a context in which we had neither the resources nor market size to demand attention.  At the national levels, we did what we could with the resources available to boost social safety nets to ensure that, in the context of the virtual shutdown of tourism, the main source of economic activity for many, some help could be offered to the unemployed,” the Secretary-General said. 

Dr. Barnett also highlighted the significant costs associated with the pandemic and related shocks, which threaten to erode the “development gains that we have achieved within our Community.” She alluded to the “visible threats” to food security in the Region, “real difficulties” to access medical supplies, and “stumbling blocks” to access development financing “at the scale and scope needed to address our vulnerability to external shocks.” Those factors, she said, emphasise the need to work more effectively together within the Community and demonstrate the positive results of doing so, hence the accelerated work on regional agricultural production, industrial policy, and strengthened south-south collaboration.

“Our recent experience has reminded us that economic integration, as embodied in the vision for the CSME, is the core of the CARICOM Integration process against which the other pillars – foreign policy coordination, human and social development, and security cooperation – are all aligned.  Indeed, it would appear that the vital importance of regional integration is also being increasingly recognised by the international financial institutions and our bilateral partners who acknowledge that given our small size and the prevailing global landscape, deepening economic integration and collaboration is important to future development. A recent World Bank Report entitled 360o Resilience has acknowledged the good functioning of regional coordination and the social protection programmes to respond to crises,” the Secretary-General said during the lecture. 

The lecture was delivered under the theme ‘The Future of CARICOM; Charting a Vision for the Region’s Economic Advancement’. The sub-title was – Making the CARICOM Single Market and Economy a Lived Reality Towards Building Sustainable Economic Development and Resilience.

The late Owen Arthur

Dr. Barnett said the Community is at a moment in time that requires the reasoned and practical vision that Arthur, the longest serving Barbados Prime Minister, shared during his journey as Statesman, Regionalist, Academic and Professional Economist. His outstanding contribution to regional integration, his leadership and sage advice, she said, played no small part in shaping the CARICOM that is now increasingly being seen as having a vital role in the Region’s efforts to deal with unprecedented shocks that demanded a collective response. 

“Owen Arthur was of the view that Caribbean integration and, especially the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), was essential as a driver of regional economic growth, social mobility, prosperity and sustainable development. He believed that integration strengthens the resilience of our region and reinforces our capacity to withstand the shocks and manage the risks emanating from the global economy and provides a basis for engaging on the international stage where our combined impact would be greater than the sum of our individual efforts.

While she acknowledged the slow pace of progress on the CSME, the Secretary-General said that “this grouping of small sovereign states, with the will and contribution of all its peoples, has the capacity to create our own transformation into resilient, competitive economies and societies where all can prosper.  We have a solid foundation in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which remains our roadmap for regional integration. We have the Charter of Civil Society which represents shared values and operational principles on which CARICOM stands as individual sovereign member states and as a region.

While our implementation of the CSME has not kept pace with the vision of the architects of the Treaty, I am convinced that a momentum is building towards implementing key outstanding commitments arising from the Revised Treaty and to shape a 21st century agenda that focuses on the critical issues that must be addressed in order to deliver a sustainable future for our region and our people.”

The Shridath Ramphal Centre at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus and the Caribbean Development Bank organised the lecture. 

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