A LIKELY FUTURE OF INTEGRATION IN THE CARIBBEAN

EXTRACT FROM  SOME SALIENT ISSUES FOR RESOLUTION IN CARICOM LECTURE BY PM GONSALVES.

When upon invitation, I appeared before the Golding Commission, I submitted, among other things, a perspective on the prospective future of regional integration in the Caribbean.  The essence of my thesis in this regard, which I had hitherto articulated, elsewhere, was that given the impact of globalisation in all its dimensions, the nature of the regional economy, and the limitations of the trade and economic aspects of CARICOM, at least two poles of regional integration are likely to emerge in concert with the CARICOM construct itself.

A northern Caribbean pole of integration based on enhanced trade and economic integration is likely to be fashioned including Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, the Bahamas, and in due course, possibly Puerto Rico.

A second pole of deepened socio-economic integration centred in the OECS member countries, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and possibly Suriname, is likely to be consolidated.  Belize’s economic and trading fortunes, regionally, are inextricably linked to the Central American Integration System (SICA) which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

Within this second pole, the economic union and confederal political arrangement in the OECS will retain its distinctiveness and uniqueness.  In time, Barbados may seek entry to the OECS or some formal associate relationship with it, as Martinique and Guadeloupe have done.

Criss-crossing these two central poles of integration is likely to be Trinidad and Tobago, given its petroleum and natural gas resources; and Guyana, too, given its abundant natural resources, geographic size, and its recent entry into potentially lucrative oil exploration and production, commercially.

CARICOM will continue to evolve and consolidate but with different tracks for different countries, a kind of flexible or variable integration geometry.  Already, Bahamas is within CARICOM but has not signed on to the trading and economic arrangements of the CSME.  Jamaica is possibly on track in precisely the same direction.  Belize is probably headed that way, too.  And depending on what happens in the prospective northern pole of integration, Haiti may do the same while remaining anchored in CARICOM in its functional cooperation, foreign policy coordination, and security connections.  CARICOM, in any event, is likely to remain a central political expression of our Caribbean civilisation.

The Golding Report is spot-on with its analytic insight that:

Globalisation is continuously reshaping the geography of production and consumption and thereby the patterns of trade across the world and it threatens to marginalise small countries that have not yet developed the capacity and resilience to withstand the intensity and competitiveness of that new paradigm.  This provides even more urgent and compelling reasons for regional integration among a group of neighbouring countries whose people already share much in common in terms of history, culture and experiences.”

 

This perspective is quite consistent with a two-pole integration process, an OECS carve-out in CARICOM, criss-crossing energy-based economies, and an evolving CARICOM which anchors our Caribbean civilisation, short of a Single Economy but consolidating its gains in the Single Market, functional cooperation, foreign policy coordination, and security collaboration. There is in fact a packed, and meaningful, agenda in each of these areas of CARICOM.

The data on trade point to realistic reassessments of the kind proposed.  In 2014, CARICOM member countries as a whole chalked up an aggregate trade deficit of US $5.63 billion.  The MDCs trade deficit was US $3.054 billion; but without the trade surplus of US $3.11 billion of Trinidad and Tobago, the MDCs overall trade deficit would have been in excess of US $6 billion; of this Jamaica’s deficit was a whopping US $4.39 billion.  Clearly, Jamaica’s trade problems are not resident in CARICOM’s arrangements “per se”, but in its lack of competitiveness, among other things. There is modest intra-regional trade but it pales in comparison with extra-regional trade; and the huge visible trade deficit extra-regionally points to the profound integration of CARICOM in the global economy of monopoly capitalism.  The region’s trade in services, especially in tourism, from source markets extra-regionally redress the extent of the visible trade deficit.

The top ten countries from which CARICOM member countries imported their commodities in 2014 are the following: USA (29 percent); Gabon (8.8 percent); Trinidad and Tobago (7.1 percent); China (6.1 percent); Colombia (5.0 percent); Russian Federation (4.3 percent); Venezuela (3.7 percent); Brazil (2.9 percent); Japan (2.4 percent); and the United Kingdom (2.3 percent).  CARICOM’s Imports from these top ten countries amounted to US $18.5 billion or 71.6 percent of its total imports of US $25.83 billion.

The top ten countries to which CARICOM Member States exported goods in 2014 are the following: USA (29.2 percent); Canada (3.0 percent); Brazil (2.8 percent); Jamaica (2.7 percent); Puerto Rico (2.5 percent); United Arab Emirates (2.2 percent); Spain (2.1 percent); Guyana (2.0 percent); Netherlands (1.9 percent); and United Kingdom (1.9 percent).  CARICOM’s exports to these top ten countries amounted in 2014 to US $13.01 billion or 64.4 percent of total exports of US $20.2 billion.

It is to be noted that total CARICOM’s intra-regional imports in 2014 amounted to US $2.89 billion but overall imports from all countries to CARICOM stood at US $25.83 billion.  And total CARICOM’s intra-regional exports in 2014 realised US $2.74 billion while the region’s total exports to all countries amounted to US $20.2 billion of which Trinidad and Tobago alone accounted for US $14.53 billion.

These are telling numbers with profound lessons for our region and the reconfiguration of our regional integration enterprise.  This is a matter of the highest importance for governments, the domestic private sector, the foreign direct investors, labour, and all social sectors in our Caribbean.

FINAL COMMENT

The integration process in the Caribbean has always been marked by distinct but connected circles of integration.  The most tightly-drawn integration mechanism is the OECS; more loosely is CARICOM; then there is the ACS which links the English, French, Dutch, and Spanish-speaking countries washed by the Caribbean Sea and has as its functional emphases trade, technology, tourism, transport, and the management of natural disasters; CELAC, a hemispheric political body  which includes all Caribbean and Latin American countries but which excludes the USA and Canada; and the political and economic ALBA-Petro Caribe nexus which includes several Caribbean and Latin American countries in close tandem with Venezuela and Cuba.  Each integration circle has its points of contact and relevance with others, all of which are designed to advance the interests of their member countries in solidarity with each other.  None of these integration circles undermines the integrity and efficacy of another; indeed, they are all supplementary and complementary to each other in a dynamic integration process.

At the same time CARICOM has negotiated trade agreements with several countries including Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and a trade and development agreement with the European Union.  CARICOM, too, has a non-reciprocal agreement with the USA on a limited range of commodities through the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

Our Caribbean history teaches that the regional integration enterprise assumes various forms and varied content.  We must not be so dogmatic as to ignore realities in our quest for the most appropriate integration mechanisms, ranging from minimalist to maximalist, consonant with all the practical circumstances. Yet, we ought never to allow a pragmatic attachment to a flexible or variable geometry of integration to still the longest, deepest yearnings of our Caribbean civilisation to fashion an institutional expression of regional integration which accords with our shared expressions and sense of existential belonging to our magnificent landscape and seascape.

All this represents my nature understanding of where we are, generally, in the regional integration enterprise, and specifically, in relation to CARICOM.  St. Vincent and the Grenadines is thus committed to deepening and broadening, in all practical circumstances, the process of regional integration in the collective interest of our people’s further development.

So, I go next week to Haiti with these composite messages of relevance and to seek, amicably, the best outcomes possible.

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