CARICOM and the ACS By Norman Girvan
Guyana Chronicle
July 7, 2002

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LAST week the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held its 23rd Conference of Heads of Government in Georgetown, Guyana.

The event had several notable features, among them a civil society forum that preceded the actual Summit; the formal accession of Haiti to the Community; a review of the trends in the economies of the sub-region; and an interactive session with the heads of a number of international organisations.

CARICOM's relationship with the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) was the subject of this columnist's presentation to the Heads of Government.

CARICOM played a crucial role in the birth of the ACS, whose establishment was one of the main recommendations of the Report of the Independent West Indian Commission, Time for Action, in 1992.

The ACS came into being in 1994 and among the objectives set out in its Convention was the economic integration of the Caribbean region, (the Greater Caribbean). This led to some uncertainty about its role vis--vis sub-regional integration schemes such as CARICOM and the Central American Integration System (SICA) and perceptions of duplication.

As a result the ACS now puts greater emphasis on its character as an organisation for cooperation, consultation, and concerted action as set out in its Convention.

At its 3rd Summit held last December, the ACS adopted a mission of building the Greater Caribbean as a Zone of Cooperation - the organisation of functional cooperation among the member states around the shared geographic space of the Caribbean Sea.

And the ACS works closely with CARICOM, SICA and other sub-regional organisations ensuring that there is complementarity in its cooperation programmes.

The focal areas of ACS functional cooperation are now trade, sustainable tourism, transport and natural disasters. My presentation highlighted the value of the ACS to CARICOM in some of these areas.

One such is in the coordination of trade negotiation strategies. As reported in last week's column, the latest developments in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) pose urgent issues for the smaller economies of the region.

There is a growing risk of division within the region on the perceived costs and benefits of participation in the FTAA, with the service oriented economies and those that export principally to Europe feeling that they have little to gain and much to lose.

Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia, in his address at the opening ceremony of the Conference, bluntly expressed the severe disquiet of the small states of the OECS regarding the possible impact of the FTAA.

The ACS Declaration on Special And Differential Treatment For Small Economies in the context of the FTAA provides a framework for addressing the needs of the smaller economies within a coordinated negotiating position.

Another issue is the need to include in the design of the FTAA provision for a Regional Development Fund aimed at accelerating the development of the less developed member countries.

Guyanese President Bharrat Jadgeo's proposal for this was endorsed at the ACS Summit in December and the ACS can serve as a vehicle for the technical development of the proposal and mobilising political support for it.

Also highlighted was the role of the ACS in promoting recognition by the

United Nations of the Caribbean Sea as a Special Area in the Context of

Sustainable Development. This designation is vital to the adequate protection and management of the Sea, which is the common patrimony of the countries of the Greater Caribbean.

The ACS-CARICOM relationship is therefore about complementarity in the Greater Caribbean.