THE BIGGEST obstacle to the realisation of the dream of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) is the disconnect between the people of this region and the organs of Caricom. Unless the matter of democratic deficit is urgently addressed, no amount of political pageantry will be able to make this dream come true.
While heads of government yesterday continued the decades-long process of gestating the CSME, the populations of the countries they each represented were none the wiser. Which is a shame, because a lot was at stake. Particularly for Trinidad and Tobago.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley put the matter starkly last August when he announced this week’s summit.
“We have to ensure that the Caricom market remains alive and remains our major marketplace,” Rowley said.
He’s not alone in his assessment. The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association has publicly noted a properly functioning CSME is a key factor for the growth of local and regional manufacturers. But just as the ordinary citizen in Europe today has difficulty understanding the structures and systems of the European Union, so too do ordinary citizens of this region when it comes to Caricom.
Few are aware of the ambitious timeline of implementation for the CSME, which we have long fallen behind, and its implications. While all goods which fulfil Caricom’s rules of origin are traded duty-free, some non-tariff barriers remain. Additionally, though free movement of labour and service providers is provided for, there are restrictions on the categories of labour.
However, the vision that buttresses the CSME not only relates to goods and services. It includes the gradual establishment of a single currency, ushering in a new foreign exchange regime. Additionally, decisions taken by heads of government at conferences like this week’s would theoretically have automatic application within member states for delineated areas, something that has enormous implications for sovereignty.
Even the Caribbean Court of Justice would have greater influence in the day-to-day lives of citizens because it has jurisdiction over Caricom matters, even in the States that have not accepted it as their final court. Little wonder, then, there may be hesitation on the part of leaders moving forward.
Yet, with the international trade environment growing more hostile by the minute thanks to US President Donald Trump’s propensity to impose tariffs, it must be understood that there is strength in numbers. And Caricom as a whole stands to benefit if we are able to integrate and, thereby, expand our financial systems and access economies of scale.
For now, notwithstanding all that was said at this two-day summit, the idea of the CSME remains a distant dream unless and until the current xenophobic fear of regional integration is replaced with rational economics. And with a more profound engagement on this issue by governments.