A united consumer movement is important for Caribbean integration Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox

Stabroek News
August 24, 2003

Related Links: Articles on the Caribbean
Letters Menu Archival Menu

“One from ten leaves nought,” Dr Eric Williams declared in 1962 when the people of Jamaica opted out of the Federation of the West Indies.

The result of the referendum was totally unexpected by the Jamaican officers in the Federal Government. They had planned a reception to take place after the results were disclosed.

Gloom descended on the English-speaking Caribbean and sadness filled the hearts of those who attended the last flag-lowering ceremony at Federal House.

The gloom soon disappeared as leaders in the region attended a Common Services Conference in mid-1962 to take decisions on those services in the areas of co-operation that existed under the Federal Government, such as the University of the West Indies and the Regional Shipping Services. The Caribbean Meteorological Service was established in 1963.

The need for cooperation and integration was clearly recognised. Indeed, to quote from The History of Caricom:

“In announcing its intention to withdraw from the Federation, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago proposed the creation of the Caribbean Economic Community, consisting not only of the ten members of the Federation, but also of the three Guianas and all the islands of the Caribbean - both independent and non-independent.”

The first Heads of Government meeting was held in Trinidad and Tobago in 1963 and from then on there has been no looking back.

In his Toast at the Caricom Day reception at the Le Meridien Pegasus on July 23, Secretary-General Edwin Carrington reminded us that this year marks 30 years since the treaty establishing Caricom was signed at Chaguaramas in Trinidad and Tobago on July 4, 1973.

He declared that Caricom can now claim to be the longest surviving integration grouping among developing countries in the world and claimed that this achievement is “not only a tribute to the tenacity of the Caribbean people and the wisdom of their leaders who have kept the dream of integration alive, but it is also an innate recognition of the yearning of the people of our region for a united Caribbean.”

With the celebration of the anniversary and references being made to the erection of new headquarters for the Secretariat, a few voices have asked: What has Caricom done for Guyana?

Take a look at one of the many Caricom documents. The title is:

Protocol Amending the Treaty Establishing the Caribbean Community.

(Protocol VIII: Competi-tion Policy, Consumer Pro-tection, Dumping and Subsidies)

The alert consumer will easily recognise the vital importance of those four issues - competition, consumer protection, dumping and subsidies - for Guyana and the entire region. Harmonisation of legislation is also being considered and is important for consumers. It will result in the most advanced legislation for all Caribbean consumers.

The establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will, I feel certain, be applauded by all Guyanese who have lost confidence in our courts. The absence of the right to appeal to the Privy Council has certainly caused some questionable decisions to be enforced.

Appointments have now been made to various Boards of the CCJ. Just lately we read that two of our renowned Guyanese, Professor Harold Lutchman, and Professor Aubrey Bishop have been selected for two boards.

Consumers who have followed international news, will know that a united front has to be taken in international affairs, such as in relation to the World Trade Organization, the Free Trade Area of the Americas’ Codex Alimentarius. Consumers cannot ignore the tough negotiations that threaten our very existence. Caricom helps the region to arrive at a common stand.

Caricom it must be admitted, moves slowly. The Caricom Single Market and Economy is still under debate and will, of necessity, take time to evolve.

In another area, the Community can be of invaluable assistance to consumers. In 1969 the first Caribbean Consumers Conference (CCC) was held. The fifth such regional conference was held in Guyana in 1971. The CCC collapsed when its President in one of the islands failed to call a meeting.

The Consumers International Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (CIROLAC) came on the scene and biennially holds a Caribbean Consumers Conference where, again and again, it is proposed that a Caribbean Consumers Committee be re-established. Unfortunately, CIROLAC does not visualise a committee of non-government organisations, but would like officers of ministries dealing with consumer affairs to sit with NGOs, commandeering the highest posts and quashing the dreams of consumers to have a united Caribbean Consumer Movement.

CLR James had declared that a united Caribbean would evolve from the people of the region. The development of such unity is stymied by the failure to recognise how important the consumer movement can be for integration.

It must be a major concern for the region to have consumer organisations established in all the CARICOM territories with harmonisation of laws and with a genuine Caribbean Consumers Committee meeting with heads of government and having an input into international affairs. It is for Caricom to assist.