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Saturday 20 July 2019
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Business Day Editorial: Caricom on Brexit, CSME road

On April 12, the United Kingdom is supposed to make its “Brexit” from the European Union, a complicated and still contentious process after a nationwide referendum in 2016.

That date looks increasingly unlikely, though, as the UK Parliament still hasn’t been able to agree on a suitable Brexit package. As that country’s politicians struggle to settle the terms and conditions surrounding its departure, parts of its population — six million people even signed a petition — are still clamouring for the process to be scrapped and the country “Bremain.”

Whatever the outcome, though, the Caribbean is probably going to be okay. The Cariforum-EU trade agreement remains intact and on Monday, TT signed on to the Cariforum-UK treaty to maintain the preferential terms if and when Brexit finally happens, joining nine other countries that signed on the week before.

Of course, if the predicted downturn in the UK economy happens because of Brexit, there may be repercussions like reduced demand for Caribbean products, and tourism may take a big hit because the UK is a major market.

Regardless, the UK has assured it remains committed to the region, once part of its vast empire and still part of the Commonwealth. The UK has been adamant that Brexit will only serve to reinvigorate the UK’s relationship with its former colonies. If that’s the case, Brexit might even prove to be a boon for the region.

Brexit has caused all sorts of uncertainty in the international economic outlooks. Every major projection, from the IMF to the Central Bank, has factored in Brexit, along with the US-China trade dispute (and, regionally, Venezuela’s political and economic instability) as threats to global and domestic stability over the next year.

As important as Brexit is, though, the Caribbean should be looking closer to home at the fractures in its perpetually fragile unity.

Ideologically, the region seems unable to reach consensus on major issues from freedom of movement, a singular regional high court, energy, regional travel and lately, Venezuela.

Last March, Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness laid in Parliament a report compiled by former PM Bruce Golding outlining the pros and cons of the country's staying in Caricom. While Jamaica insisted there would be no “Jexit,” the report nonetheless gave a blunt assessment of the failure of the regional bloc to implement its goals.

“The people of Caricom are confounded by the fact that their adventure into this 'consortium' does not in many respects, appear to correspond with demonstrable success or improvement in the quality of their lives,” the report said.

Globalisation demands regional integration to promote competitiveness, the report suggested, but the region’s grand experiment, the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), couldn’t even be judged a failure or success because it has not been functionally established. Thirty years after it was first proposed, CSME finally got a boost last December when governments agreed to commit to regional integration, although how this is different from the three previous agreements signed in 1989, 2001 and 2006, remains to be seen.

Caricom was founded in 1973 with the hope of regional collaboration creating a force to be reckoned with on a global scale in trade, education and culture.

Instead, it’s become a symbol of inertia, rudderless and unable to significantly transition into the competitive force it hoped to be because its leaders, and perhaps its people, are unable to look beyond their own interests.

It’s understandable that a sovereign nation would want to seek the best individual deal, but Caricom’s strength should be its diversity of people and skills. As a bloc, pooling its resources equitably, it is stronger.

The West Indies Federation failed because of, among other things, petty bickering over what the capital should be. Caricom, while far from falling apart just yet, risks impotence and obscurity as individual countries again seek their own interests.

Caricom needs to be more than a talk shop. The leaders of Caricom have been entrusted by the people to seek what is best for everyone in this region. It’s time for them to step up and make the necessary legislative adjustments to breakdown imaginary regional barriers and ensure the smooth movement of people, capital, technology and skills that people have been promised, instead of just empty promises predicated on self-interest. Caribbean unity shouldn’t just be a slogan during West Indies matches.

Dr Eric Williams, TT’s first PM and advocate of the federation described the demise of the group when Jamaica pulled out: “One from ten leaves nought.” Put another way, in the words of Ned Stark, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.

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