The long road to Caribbean economic integration

Guyana Chronicle
January 8, 2001

TWO CRITICAL meetings this week will hopefully witness another few steps forward in the process of Caribbean economic integration.

A press release emanating from the CARICOM Secretariat, based here in Georgetown, indicated that the Tenth Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) which opens today will set the agenda for a two-day Ministerial encounter beginning also in Georgetown on January 11, 2001. Protocol 11, which deals with the rights of establishment, provision of services and movement of capital under the single market arrangement, will be discussed in terms of its implementation. The removal of restrictions in intra-regional trade, goods and services is a key aspect of the implementation process.

The economic integration of Caribbean territories was one of the important objectives envisioned by the founding fathers of the Caribbean Community in the early 1970s. And citizens of the Region must be forgiven if they manifest any sign of impatience over the seemingly inordinate period of time it is taking the politicians and technical experts to bring this vision into reality.

However, what the Caribbean people must understand is that the birthing of a common market is not an easy task. Very often, implementation dates have to be reviewed when it is clear that targets cannot possibly be met by specific deadlines.

In July 1989, when CARICOM Heads of Government met in Grenada, they decided that the Secretariat must steadfastly advance its efforts for the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). According to the 1999 Annual Report of the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community, all Member States signed the three Protocols relating to Trade Policy, Transportation Policy and Disadvantaged Countries, Regions and Sectors.

"Work also continued towards the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which is central to the effective functioning of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy. The supporting mechanisms for the free intra-regional movement of goods, services, capital and people were further defined with a view to facilitating early implementation," the Report states.

The coming into being of a system under which skills, goods and services could be moved efficiently from one Caribbean territory to another would be a most progressive development for the people of this Region.

Imagine a professional from Jamaica choosing to take up a position in a Barbados corporation without experiencing any anxiety about his migrant status and without the insecurity of obtaining and maintaining the necessary work permits; think about a Guyanese craft producer moving from country to country with her stocks of banana-leaf dolls without being nervous about hostile Immigration Officers at the Grantley Adams Airport, Barbados; and how wonderful it would be for that mature educator from Trinidad and Tobago to take up a teaching post in Belize with the assurance that her retirement emoluments and social security benefits will not be forfeited because of her decision.

In the area of goods and services, manufacturers of food, furniture and garments would be assured of markets within the Caribbean Region and therefore would not have to expend millions of hard currency trying to penetrate the markets of North America and Europe. Publishing facilities of one country would be occupied full time in producing books and documents of regional writers and researchers who may lack the wherewithal and market sophistication for accessing publishers in the industrialised and uninterested North.

May our regional wise men and women be blessed with the knowledge and skill to accelerate a process dreamt of three decades ago by our founding fathers.

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