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CARICOM AT 50: Caribbean Integration Movement at a Crossroad?

Education 13 Jul, 2023 Follow News

Dr Livingston Smith

By Dr Livingston Smith, PhD

Professor, Department of the Social Sciences

University College of the Cayman Islands


When the CARICOM heads of state gathered in Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month for the 45th   Heads of Government Meeting, they knew it was more than the usual get-together. Comprised of fifteen full members and five associate members, formed August 1, 1973, CARICOM is celebrating fifty years of existence making it the oldest surviving integration movement in the developing world. The founding fathers, Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago, Michael Manley of Jamaica, Errol Barrow of Barbados and Forbes Burnham of Guyana, and certainly many others, had not given up on the idea of Caribbean Integration even with the demise of the short-lived West Indian Federation which was intended to facilitate the combined independence of all the countries as a single unit. 

The concept of an integrated Caribbean has always made sense, even if Edward Seaga, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, once referred to CARICOM as ‘one of the enduring problems of the last thirty years’ in an article he wrote in the Jamaica Gleaner of July 8, 2016. Sir Arthur Lewis, the Caribbean’s only Nobel Laureate in economics, for example, had envisaged a regional framework for industrialization. Most Caribbean countries have populations of under one million and land areas of less than twenty thousand square kilometers. The largest is Guyana with 83,000 square miles. These are predominantly small states and ministates known for their greater dependence on foreign trade and world prices, possession of a narrow range of resources, dependence on foreign corporations, etcetera. Their economies are dependent on fragile ecosystems made even more so by global warming and they are highly susceptible to natural hazards. There is an obvious logic of corporation and integration. As Michael Manley, former Prime Minister of Jamaica said: ‘We must seek our strength in our unity. And then we must dedicate that strength to the building of a new life of opportunity and security for our people.’

But with fifty years of existence, what successes can CARICOM boast? Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the UWI, in his statement on the occasion of the CARICOM’s 50th anniversary, explained that these accomplishments include ‘climate change advocacy, coordination of external trade negotiations, disaster management, education, health cooperation, marine biodiversity advocacy, private sector collaboration.’

But Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of CARICOM believes that the achievements have been far more. In her presentation at a symposium ‘CARICOM at 50’ hosted by UWI St. Augustine on April 14, 2023, she explained that CARICOM has served as a model for similar integration movements resulting in ‘our friends from Africa and the Pacific sending missions to study what we have been doing’. The Secretary-General pointed to the establishment of collaborative mechanisms in education, health, agriculture, disaster management, climate change and crime and security. She also took pride in the successful establishment of the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, the Caribbean Examination Council, the Pan Caribbean Public Health Agency, etcetera.

She also pointed to the emerging success of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), intended to ‘create a single, seamless economic space within the community that provides a larger scale economic, trading and business environment.’ The CSME was intended to catalyze business and productivity within the region as the ‘foundation for international competitiveness and effective insertion in the global economy.’ It was her view that significant progress has been made in realizing this objective.

The Honourable Mr. Justice Adrian Saunders, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, in his celebratory message, lauded the CCJ as ‘a prime example of Caribbean ingenuity’ and explained that the court continues to pursue its mission ‘to provide accessible, fair and efficient justice for the people and sates of the Caribbean.’  He further explained that the ‘CCJ regards itself as a prime example of Caribbean ingenuity’. It is his view that the ‘institutional arrangements developed to fund the Court and to select and appoint Judges have been praised the world over for their uniqueness.’ So far, the CCJ serves as the highest court of appeal on civil and criminal matters for the national courts of Barbados, Belize and Guyana, and Dominica only. This court also deals with any dispute among members of the CSME.

This article could go on listing what are said to be the achievements of CARICOM after fifty years. However, as praiseworthy as these are, for many Caribbean people who value the integration movement, there are still many questions being asked. They are exactly those posed by Chair of CARICOM, PM Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica.at the opening of the 45th CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

Is CARICOM truly integrated? What about issues of free movement, and non-tariff barriers to trade? What is preventing CARICOM from reviving the Single Domestic Space? Why is intraregional travel still a hassle? What about the expansion of categories for free movement of skilled nationals to benefit the growth and expansion of the regional spirit of our community? How much more can CARICOM, within its resources, do for Haiti? Why are so many Caribbean peoples skeptical and some downright dismissive of the value and benefit of CARICOM? These are all very pertinent questions raised by the PM which indicates that the CARICOM leadership is well aware of what the main issues are going forward, even as we take pleasure in the achievements of fifty years of this community. Maybe its time to build CARICOM from the bottom up. What do the people want and how do they think it should be done? 

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