Telling it like it is

Stabroek News
May 10, 2000

In his address at the opening of the Third Annual Caribbean Media Conference in Georgetown last week and in the discussion that followed Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados consolidated his reputation as one of the heads of government in Caricom able and willing to speak frankly and without equivocation about the problems facing its member states and possible solutions.

The Prime Minister started by noting that there have recently been political developments in the region that run counter to the democratic tradition. He then pointed out that the region will have to make its place "in a world of declining special preferences, greater reciprocity, equal treatment for national and foreign investment and enterprise, and the end of managed trade". He referred to negotiations with Europe, negotiations in the hemisphere for the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation. "It is essential", he argued, that before we embrace full liberalisation with the rest of the world, we must first practice full liberalisation in the Caribbean".

Noting that the Treaty of Chaguaramas in l973 had envisaged a limited model of economic integration he said: "As such, as far back as l989, in the Grand Anse Declaration, the leaders of the Caribbean Community committed themselves to creating a Single Caribbean Market and Economy. The new process of economic integration arising from that decision contemplates that we not only liberate the movement of goods within the Caribbean region, but the movement of capital services and human resources. It also requires that we harmonise our policies for the development of capital markets, our social security systems, our monetary and fiscal policies, our incentives to industry, our trade relations with the rest of the world, the main practices in the development of our business, our policies for the development of our human, institutional and technological resources".

The Prime Minister said the single market was almost ten years late and some argue that its relevance and benefit have largely been overtaken by international events. He continued: "The creation of a Single Caribbean Economy cannot succeed unless the people of the Caribbean can move freely in their region to develop the Caribbean society, each in accordance with his or her own ability. My Government is determined to honour our obligations to enable Caribbean citizens to work and settle in Barbados". And again: "As the Prime Minister responsible for the creation of a Single Caribbean Market and Economy, I must say to you that the Single Market and Economy in the Caribbean cannot truly become a reality unless we create the political power structures to make it a reality. It will not be easy or automatic. It will probably take place long after I have left active politics".

To those who have long ago despaired at the extremely slow pace at which Caribbean economic integration has proceeded, partly because of the unanimity rule, and at the failure of vision on the part of the leaders these forthright remarks were heady wine indeed. Dare we hope that Prime Minister Arthur is not a lone voice crying in the wilderness, that others share his grasp of the situation and a sense of urgency? What about our own President, who has given evidence of a willingness to take new initiatives, is he a potential ally of Mr Arthur? Are there other heads of government who realise that the hour is late and that much more needs to be done?

In his peroration Mr Arthur said: "But to create the new Caribbean society that can succeed in the new global society, we simply must give greater attention to the political dimensions of Caribbean integration, and deliberately set out to design a new Caribbean governance relevant to the purposes of the 2lst Century Caribbean Community.

I leave you today with the words of a Caribbean patriot, C.L.R. James. He spoke in l977 about the "Birth of a Nation" and he delivered himself of the following:

"Nobody knows what the Caribbean population is capable of. Nobody has ever attempted to find out. For one thing is certain. Any new and genuine economic development of the Caribbean has to begin first of all with the involvement of the mass of the population".

It is said that polls have shown that the majority of the population in some member states are against fuller integration. That is almost certainly due to the fact that the leaders have never sought to make integration a domestic political issue in their own territories and to explain the rationale and the advantages. The real regional debate has been dead for years. Will Mr Arthur's clarion call evoke any responses?