LEADERS in the region’s private sector agree that the governments of each island are too heavily invested in their individual interests at the cost of further development for Caricom and the Single Market Economy (CSME).
Massy Group president and CEO Gervase Warner said each island has maintained sovereignty with their own “small island politics” and the difficult work necessary to have a common market where there is the free movement of goods, services, capital and people is always something with a political record. As a result, he said, states have been slow to fully implement the CSME concept.
“(Air travel) is taxed through the nostrils, and it costs more to go to Barbados from Trinidad than to go to Miami. There are all sorts of barriers to working together,” Warner said.
The CSME, which has its roots in 1973 with the original treaty of Chaguaramas, was intended to see the region work with one another on foreign relations, and the other was a common market. Warner said the concept of a common market eventually became the CSME in 1990. However, CSME remains more of a concept than it is a reality.
“Even though we all have a reputation of being British territories, after gaining independence around the same time, then playing with the idea of a federation, each island maintained umbilical ties to England, and other to the United States. There is no place for small island states in this cold, harsh world where there is no big brother coming to bail us out – we are on our own.”
The process of collaboration seems to be a great challenge for the region. Each relies increasingly on funding because none of the countries is able to survive independently. “All of us are empowered by industries, whether tourism or an extractive industry (such as oil and gas), while a few have manufacturing corporations which facilitate trade, though the trade routes are underdeveloped," Warner said.
Making reference to World Cup Cricket in 2007, Warner noted that during the championship there was free movement throughout the region – citizens of Caricom member states were expected only to produce their national identification card. “The systems that we had fostered still exist, but as soon as soon as World Cup Cricket was done, we went back to our old ways.”
“We continue to maintain a Caricom concept where we are ‘kind of’ working together.” He spoke further of attitudes resembling xenophobia among Caribbean people toward their neighbours – and what may seem to be a toxic competition where people would see each other as invaders into their spaces, rather than other Caribbean citizens seeking access to the wide range of employment and other opportunities available across the region. “We find all kinds of ways to make it difficult for people entering our countries.”
The CSME is officially seven million people, however, when in July 2018, Haiti officially joined CSME that made it 18 million. Because of the economic struggle that country has been facing for decades, there remain difficulties in maintaining strong trade relations. “Even when (you) put us all together, we are small – even including Haiti. And we don’t have established linkages to one another.”
Warner said the decision stands that the region will either come together to maintain a true single market economy, or countries will continue acting independently of each other. “If we really want is, the time is now to make it happen.”
Executive chairman of DDL Guyana, Komal Samaroo said his experience in the rum industry gave has taught him lessons that could be applied to the CSME. He spoke of post-independence when the Caribbean had preferential access, even though the region competed with the French in that market. “Over time we have transitioned to a higher level on the value chain. There is no longer preferential access. We compete on a level playing field with Central America, India and the US. But the question is, how will we change our behaviour in response to our market place?”
Samaroo said it is important to look at the regulatory framework that governs distillery operations within the Caribbean versus those in Scotland, Canada and the US. “What we have found, is that the regulations have evolved, making it easier and less costly to operate. We are saying to our governments that much has changed, markets have changed – so we need to re-equip ourselves so we can compete in the global market place.”
“Of course, there are challenges, but we have to look for the light in the tunnel. When talking about the CSME, to me there is an assumption that there is a commonality of interests.” But he said he does not see that. He said in trying to great a Pan-Caribbean structure, the issue is decided on whether to see to the interest of the region, or domestic preferences and how varying agenda are balanced.
Executive chairman of Ernst and Young Colin Soo Ping Chow spoke of the movement toward a Pan-Caribbean approach. “We feel more confident in the economics than ever before. There is a strength in operating across the markets. And there is more than meets the eye, so it is something to which we must be committed for the long haul.”
He spoke about balancing the Pan-Caribbean interest, and how it can be balanced with individual state preference – speaking of countries that are less dependent, versus those that are more dependent on foreign investors and how this affects the bottom line for the region.
CEO of Barbados-based Goddard Enterprises Ltd Anthony Ali said he found that in doing business, it is easier to conduct business outside the region than within Caricom. “To sell a product in the Caribbean we have to register in every single island, and in some countries, the labelling and colours used on packing are all changed – country to country, and we have to comply. Yet, the international brands that come in, simply register and are exempted from the specificities of each island.”
This creates an un-level playing field, he said, where international companies can come in and compete with regional companies because we create these barriers against ourselves, and that is a singular large issue in the region. “We are our biggest enemies."