ON THE RIGHT: Losing sight of goals
Is the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) dead? These days I am less inclined to speak in absolute terms.
I would prefer to say that the CSME project is off the table “for the time being” which could be interpreted to say it is still alive, in the sense that we will continue to benefit from what facilitates that are already on the table, but further developments are highly unlikely at this time.
The CSME is largely an economic project but I appear to be one of few people who appreciate that it will always have a human side. CARICOM leaders were too slow to advance on the human aspects of this project, [making it] difficult to “sell” to CARICOM’s people who never really invested in it because it appeared too abstract.
The CSME project is important but as we have seen in the European Union there will always be controversial issues arising when the labour aspects of this project are approached.
It is therefore fortunate that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur attempted to accelerate progress on the CSME during times that were comparatively more prosperous economically.
During those times I was often critical about his pace; however, in retrospect and with the benefit of this current environment, I now realize how quickly we were moving. The fact that we were all more prosperous then meant that people were more tolerant of the human implications of the CSME, but more recently, scarcity seems to have driven politicians onto the back-foot on this project.
In my opinion, there are two critical governmental perspectives on this issue, that of Trinidad and Tobago and that of Barbados. The former is important since it is the economic engine of the Caribbean, the CSME member with the largest and the country that benefits most from the CSME.
In the early days of the Persaud-Bissessar administration her now infamous statement that Trinidad and Tobago was not an ATM sent a clear signal of her “new” government’s perception of CARICOM.
Her comments were as unfortunate as the apparent attitude of the “new” Barbados government which was reflected in its Green Paper on Immigration, along with former Prime Minister David Thompson’s equally infamous statement “ever so welcome, wait for a call”.
In a similar vein, Thompson’s successor Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has taken this apparent hostility to the CSME to a new level by attacking the bona fides of the 2007 Treaty revisions which he implied were signed “behind the back” of the Barbados Parliament.
As such, we have both the project leader (Barbados) and the key player (Trinidad and Tobago) in the project both expressing an implied disinterest in the fundamentals of closer association and it is therefore obvious that there is no impetus for the CSME to progress in this environment.
This is unfortunate since the logic behind the CSME is about enhancing the Caribbean’s economic space, expanding our markets and effectively making us more competitive, which is exactly what we need in these difficult economic times.