What next for Caricom?

This will require a careful examination of the Caricom Single Market and Economy, as contemplated by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.

No doubt, in its comprehensive assessment of Jamaica’s Caricom’s membership, the review commission will consider a wide range of factors, as contemplated by the terms of reference presented by the Prime Minister. 

One set of factors will, in all likelihood, concern Brexit, not only because this is topical, but also because it carries lessons and implications for us.

Perhaps the first lesson from Brexit is that regionalism ought not to be a “top-down” imposition. Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973 without a vote on the subject, but after considerable public discussion. 

Indications are that, in terms of economics, Britain has benefited substantially from the union, and that the younger generation in Britain, which voted heavily to remain in the EU, has generally appreciated the benefits of the union.

A related set of lessons from Brexit concerns leadership and the significance of the democratic will. At the time of establishment of a regional economic grouping, it is not likely that many citizens will have strong opinions on the viability of the regional plan. 

We will all hope that the regional measures contemplated will bring greater employment, greater availability of goods at lower prices, infusions of capital, and increased export prospects. But, save for those on the economic front lines, it will be a matter of conjecture whether the promised benefits of integration will be materialised.

Thirdly, Brexit underlines the fact that there will be winners and losers arising from economic integration efforts. 

On one reading of the Brexit vote, the “Leave” campaign was motivated by the fact that globalisation has created special challenges for people who cannot react flexibly to fundamental changes in the world economy. 

Thus, the argument runs, if you fear unemployment arising from the shift from manufacturing to services in your economy, you may be likely to oppose economic integration as part of a protest against change.

The reality is that integration will suit low-cost producers over high-cost ones. It will also favour people who are sufficiently educated and skilled to adjust to new market requirements, and it will favour people who are willing to travel to other countries to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. This, I believe, tends to explain the intergenerational differences manifested in the Brexit vote.

And, fourthly, Brexit brings home the point that, in assessing the value of a regional integration project, we should remain mindful of the broad view. 

It will always be easy to identify specific problems with the scheme: it may be allowing too many migrants, it may not be doing enough to promote exports, and so on.

Against this background, what are some of the main issues that Jamaica may wish to consider in its assessment of our participation in Caricom? 

It may be useful to ask, as a preliminary matter, briefly to examine the purposes of Caricom and the Caricom Single Market and Economy. 

This will help us to understand Jamaica’s primary objectives in pursuing the Caricom agenda.

So, therefore, what is Caricom for? Article 6 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas sets out a long list of at least nine Caricom objectives. These include, among other things:

(a) Improved standards of living and work;

(b) Full employment of labour and other factors of production;

(c) Accelerated co-ordinated and sustained economic development and convergence;

(d) Expansion of trade and economic relations with third States;

(e) Enhanced levels of international competitiveness;

(f) Organisation for increased production and productivity;

(g) The achievement of greater economic leverage and effectiveness in dealing with other states;

(h) Enhanced co-ordination of member states’ foreign and [foreign] economic policies; and

(i) Enhanced functional cooperation.

The gap between Caricom’s ambition and realisation of its objectives prompts important questions about implementation of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. 

For example, some manufacturers in Jamaica complain strongly that Trinidad and Tobago is not respecting rules concerning subsidies. 

The net effect, the Jamaican manufacturers say, is that Trinidad and Tobago may sell their goods more cheaply in Jamaica and elsewhere, and thus, beat out the Jamaican competition within the Caricom market.

The Caricom review ordered by Prime Minister Holness may make a valuable contribution in this area, for it should be able to ascertain whether or not Trinidad and Tobago is offering non-discriminatory treatment to other Caricom nationals in respect of subsidies.

The review commission may have challenges obtaining all the necessary information, for some of the information may be held by private companies, but one assumes that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will cooperate fully with the review commissions efforts to ferret out the relevant facts.

Stephen Vasciannie CD is a Professor of International Law at UWI, and a former Jamaica Ambassador to the USA and the OAS.

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