Speaking with one voice
Stabroek News
December 4, 2002

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In Stabroek News last week (November 27) there was a further report on the conclusion by Jamaica of an Open Skies Agreement with the USA. Under this Agreement Air Jamaica and American carriers such as America West, US Airways and US Air will have free access to each other's airspace. This is a seemingly straightforward agreement between two sovereign states. However, it should be seen as the latest development in a pattern of external behaviour by Caricom Member States which threatens the commitments to integration.

It is a pity that the exchanges between the Caricom Secretariat and the Jamaican Foreign Ministry are turning on whether Jamaica had effectively notified the Secretariat of its intention to conclude the Agreement. That is a sideshow designed to distract attention from the disturbing implications of what has been done. This much is certain, the Jamaican government was aware of the long-standing intention of Caricom to negotiate as Caricom an Open Skies Agreement with the USA. It is also clear that it was the intention of the Jamaican Government to negotiate on its own a separate agreement. Jamaica was also aware that it was acting contrary to the provisions of the treaty establishing Caricom (the Treaty of Chaguaramas) and that these provisions had been strongly reaffirmed by Caricom's supreme institution, the Conference of Heads of Government.

It is reported that in a similar development in the European Union, the European Court of Justice held that the separate conclusion of an Open Skies Agreement by one of its members was contrary to the provisions of European Union law.

But the action by Jamaica is by no means singular. It will be recalled that in 1995 both the governments of Trinidad and Tobago and of Jamaica had announced their intention of individually seeking membership in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Area) which was the precursor of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (the FTAA) now in the process of negotiation. The only reason why no action was taken was because the US government had soon made it plain that such individual state applications would not be welcome.

More recently the Trinidad government had taken umbrage at the fact that its attempt to conclude a trade and cooperation agreement with Costa Rica was not viewed favourably, it was felt that its Caricom commitments were retarding Trinidad's progress.

Nor is Guyana's conduct blameless. The Caricom Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) meeting in Georgetown earlier this year strongly admonished the Ministry of Foreign Trade for not complying with the Caricom Treaty provisions in the conclusion of the Partial Scope Trade Agreement with Brazil. COTED directed that the agreement be amended to take account of a number of commodities already produced and traded in Caricom. One consequence of the ensuing impasse is that Guyana has not yet been able to take advantage of the ten thousand ton sugar market to be opened up under the Agreement.

Convinced that external commitments made by individual member states could perhaps impact adversely on the processes of integration, the architects of the Treaty of Chaguaramas in Article 34 of the provisions establishing the Common Market placed an obligation upon Caricom Member States to "seek a progressive harmonisation of their trade with Third Countries or groups of Third Countries" and further required Member States "to transmit to the Secretariat particulars of any trade or aid agreements entered into after the entry into force" of the treaty.

But the requirement to transmit information after the event was in practice soon found to be inadequate. So much so that Heads of Government at their Summit in 1975 called upon governments to have consultation with their Caricom partners

before concluding trade, aid and economic complementarity agreements with third countries or groups of third countries, and not merely provide information after the event. This decision of the Heads of Government has since been incorporated in the Treaty Law.

The group of Caricom experts (the so-called Wise Men's group) who were entrusted with the task of preparing a strategy for integration movement during the decade of the 1980s had noted in their report that the rationale for the arrangements mentioned above were twofold. "First, opportunities for trade and economic complementarity in cooperation with other (Caricom countries) should not be diminished in favour of such relations with third countries or groups of third countries. Second, the external bargaining power of the Community and Common Market should be maximised by joint approaches".

The Wise Men had thus put the matter in a nutshell.

Such coordination in external trade relations is of course closely related and may perhaps be indistinguishable from another crucial provision of the Chaguaramas treaty. In the preamble of the Treaty, the architects of the integration movement had asserted that the objectives of strengthening the bonds among their people and fulfilling their hopes and aspirations for full employment and improved standards of work and living could inter alia only be achieved by presenting "a common front in relation to the external world". These commitments were given teeth by two operational provisions of the treaty namely:

(1) The injunction to coordinate the foreign policies of member states

and (2) the pledge to coordinate their positions and presentations at all international economic, financial and trade meetings at which they are represented.

While there was some delay in establishing the mechanism for coordination of foreign policies, the diplomatic practice was soon established. Foreign policy coordination has yielded major achievements. One of these has been the negotiation, through the ACP group with the European Community (now the European Union) of the Lome treaty and its successors. Lome and its successor treaties safeguarded in large measure the absolutely necessary preferential market in the UK (Europe) for sugar and bananas and made available a large volume of economic assistance.

Another major achievement was the way in which coordination of diplomatic efforts effectively supported Guyana and Belize in their resistance to territorial claims by Venezuela and Guatemala respectively.

There can be no questions but that speaking with one voice has provided major shield for Caricom and a potent instrument for coping with the pressures of powerful states and other entities. Yet there remains the persisting tendency to break ranks. The attitude seems to be we will stick together where we must but we will go it alone where by stealing a march we can secure some individual advantage.

Why does this happen? It is especially the case in a small state that governments cannot easily resist the immediacy of demands by powerful groups and factions even when these demands run counter to regional commitments which latter are not seen as providing bankable results here and now.

Then there are external blandishments and pressures. As a group the Caricom states can command significant influence; sometimes decisively so in certain fora as for example the OAS. It is therefore felt that it is better to pick them off one by one , state by state, subject by subject, as happened in the case of the shiprider agreement which was discussed in this column last week and which is in some respects similar in implications to the Open Skies Agreement.

However it is the case that at no time since the achievement of Independence has the Caricom region been under greater threat from external forces and factors than now. The latest phase of negotiations with the EU which has just begun is fraught with hazards for Caricom states especially in view of growing threats to the preferential market arrangements.

Sugar and bananas could be in further jeopardy. It is probable that without firm special arrangements the proposed FTAA could diminish or destroy the Caricom Single Market and Economy and the increasingly unsatisfactory negotiations on the WTO threaten to erode still further trade as an instrument for development. In WTO fora Caricom States must seek to establish their right to consistent Special and Differential Treatment as a matter of survival.

And one Bali or Mombasa type atrocity in the Caribbean could bring an end to the tourist industry for several years. Caricom states as a matter of life and death need to eschew any action whose divisive consequences, whatever might be the immediate benefits, can diminish their capacity to act and speak together and to present a common front when confronted by external threats and challenges.

That is why the implications of the Jamaican Open Skies Agreement must he widely pondered and discussed in the region. It will be of particular interest to see what action COTED will take.

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