Single market must be promoted

Stabroek News
November 6, 1999

Come next year, the major elements of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy are expected to be in place. It is a critical step in the region's strategy for meeting the challenges to be posed by the establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas scheduled to be in place by 2005.

This new arrangement which brings together the sovereign states of the Community will be a test of the political will and commitment of the Heads of Government. Unlike the European Union, there is no supranational body making laws with which all member states must comply. In the Single Market and Economy, decisions taken by the CARICOM Heads will only be implemented in a member state when its legislature enacts the requisite legislation.

Of course, they would all have subscribed to and ratified the nine protocols amending the Treaty of Chaguaramas which would regulate the interaction between the member states. Also, a not unimportant fact is that the Caribbean Court of Justice should be in existence by October 2000, to mediate in disputes between member states and between the member states and the Community. This court too could in special cases be approached by individuals to claim rights granted to them by the amended CARICOM treaty and being denied them by a member state or press a claim on their own behalf where the member state to which they belong has failed to do so.

Unfortunately, the progress being made in setting up the Single Market is not being matched in the process of educating the public in the member states as to the challenges and benefits of the new arrangements. This has been a traditional area of failure for CARICOM and a blind spot in its planning as not sufficient resources are allocated for this activity.

Public education for the most part has been reactive rather than proactive. There are policy decisions about which the public need to be aware if their full benefits are to be enjoyed and member governments are to feel obligated to discharge their responsibilities in these areas. One of these is the right to establish a business in any member state and the entitlement to be treated as a member of that member state. Unless the public is aware of this right, there can be no pressure on the member governments to put all the required arrangements in place.

The public also needs to be aware of the various other benefits to be able to put pressure on their governments to put the arrangements in place which would allow for a dedicated unit in the public services to deal with/monitor matters related to the Single Market and Economy.

The present arrangements provide for a Minister to be responsible for CARICOM affairs. With the Single Market in being there is need for the administrative support to ensure that the various decisions are implemented when taken.

President Bharrat Jagdeo in Trinidad and Tobago last month said that one of the tough decisions facing CARICOM Heads would be the question of devolving authority to Community institutions, a la the European Union as neither the Heads as a group nor a ministerial council could run the Single Market. While this is true the other side of the argument is also valid, that no faceless set of bureaucrats can do so either and herein lies the challenge of ordering the Single Market arrangements so that individual CARICOM states still retain some control over decisions which affect them.

To accomplish this, the consciousness of the people of the various member states would have to be raised to the level where they feel confident that decisions which might not be to their advantage in the short run would redound to their benefit in the long run. Of course that sort of acceptance comes easy with a high level of commitment to regional integration which pervades the entire Community and not just its top leadership.

Until now there has been nothing save the West Indies cricket team that fired that commitment which made every West Indian share the joy of its triumph and the pain of its defeat. The leaders now have to transform that commitment into something more substantive. It is not a job which our not inconsiderable talent in the region cannot overcome. And while we may not have an Eric Williams, a Norman Manley, or a Grantley Adams, we do have P J Patterson, Owen Arthur, Basdeo Panday, Kenny Anthony and the most precocious of all, Bharrat Jagdeo. And we still have in support of them Sparrow, Kitchener, Cro-Cro, David Rudder, and the newer breed of calypsonians who make social commentary their forte.

The politicians will all have to be out front on this issue. It is a position which they know they will have to take if they are to prove unfounded President Jagdeo's fear that the Single Market could yet be another deferred dream.

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