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Today's World: An ugly place for CARICOM States

Regrettably, the standing of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), both regionally and internationally, is now at one of its lowest points when the people of CARICOM need it to be at its strongest.

The deep concern about CARICOM’s failure to fulfil the promise it has made to the people of its member countries for thirty-six years has been voiced recently by many commentators on the regional scene. And, they have not been alone. Leaders of the private sector and the regional trade union movement have also expressed their unease with the failures of the integration process.
Recently, Peter Laurie, a former Barbados diplomat, writing in his column in the Barbados Nation newspaper stated: “World events have simply overtaken CARICOM. It's dead. The question is whether anyone will have the decency to bury the corpse”.
Many persons, who like Laurie, have worked diligently for the strengthening of CARICOM as a vital tool for Caribbean survival sympathise with his frustration. We have heard declarations of intent to attain many objectives, only to see the dates for their attainment come and go with little being done.
Barbados’ Prime Minister, David Thompson, would have had good reason for disappointment when the convocation he organised on the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) in October was attended by only three other heads of government. The convocation achieved nothing and would have left Mr Thompson with little direction on how to take forward the CSME agenda for which he has responsibility in the CARICOM quasi cabinet.
If this were the only recent meeting that failed to address the issues that confront CARICOM, it might have been forgivable. But, it is one of a series of meetings that have been inconclusive on the important steps that need to be taken if CARICOM is to better serve the interests of its member states and their people. 
I need not rehearse those steps here, but it as well to recall that the question of governance of CARICOM remains unresolved as leaders shy away from the creation of machinery authorised by law to implement decisions; many vital elements of the Single Market are still to be established in several countries; a regional stock exchange is still a consummation devoutly to be wished; and regional transportation is nowhere near being rationalised.
What the region is witnessing instead is a despairing attempt by some countries to go it alone, and an effort by others to seek alliances with countries outside of CARICOM in the hope of being rewarded with help.
The picture is not pretty.
Peter Laurie made the judgment that “CARICOM leaders have absolutely no interest in regional integration other than what petty benefits each can gouge out of it. Most of them, except for the cheapskates and freeloaders, are slowly realising that they get out less than they put in. CARICOM is no longer a win-win situation, but a zero-sum game. In a globalised world economy, we're all better off fending for ourselves”.   
Whether this opinion of CARICOM leaders is true or not, if CARICOM leaders come to the conclusion that their countries are better off fending for themselves, the facts tell a different tale. Small states, such as those in the Caribbean, cannot go it alone. They simply do not have the capacity to do so, as coping with the global financial crisis has clearly demonstrated. And, those that seek convenient alliances for short-term benefits will find that, as history has shown time and again, there will be a price to be paid usually in the loss of autonomy over crucial matters.
Four of CARICOM"s leaders: Ralph Gonsalves (St Vincent), Bharat Jagdeo (Guyana), Dean Barrow (Belize), Patrick Manning (Trinidad and Tobago)
A recent article by Gideon Rachman, the Financial Times Chief Foreign Affairs commentator, is worth considering.
Two years ago, Rachman had praised small states. He thought that their time had come. Now he says, “In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the economic and political tide has turned against small nations. Look around Europe and it is the smalls that have fared worst – Iceland, Ireland, the three Baltic states. Iceland has not only suffered a catastrophic economic and banking collapse.  It is also being bullied by Britain and the Netherlands into paying back billions lost by their citizens when Icelandic banks collapsed. Membership of the European Union has provided the Irish and the “Balts” with some protection from pressure by larger nations, but it cannot solve all problems.  Latvia has had to go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan.  Lithuania and Ireland may be forced to tread the same route.”
And if we needed to be reminded, the “small states” to which he refers are all considerably larger with greater capacity than the largest of CARICOM’s states.
Rachman also supports the point that the creation of the G20 to manage the world’s economic affairs does not help small countries even with the inclusion of developing states such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa.  
He argues, “International politics has also turned against small countries. The biggest geopolitical development to come out of the economic crisis is the formation of the Group of 20 – a club for large nations that now aims to set the regulatory climate for the world. The kind of regulatory and tax arbitrage that small countries once profited from is now subject to an international crackdown. In the age of global deregulation, large countries found it hard to stamp on small neighbours that were undercutting them with lower taxes or looser regulations. But the mood has changed. Regulation is fashionable again and taxes are going up. At the recent G20 summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, crowed: “Tax havens, banking secreacy – all that is finished.”
The lesson that should have been learned from the experience of the global financial crisis and the creation of the G20 is that CARICOM should become more not less relevant, and instead of being buried should be invigorated. The longer CARICOM states delay creating a single market and doing substantial work on a single economy, the more exposed each of them will become to direction and prescriptions from external forces.
The world may now be an ugly place for CARICOM, but it would be uglier for each CARICOM state on its own.  

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