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Brian Francis


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As I reflect on the upcoming meeting of CARICOM leaders, I am forced to wonder about the future direction of our economies and whether or not our leaders are taking onboard the issues that are most urgent to Caribbean countries.
I have reached that conclusion because the more I analyse macroeconomic data from Caribbean countries, the more I read economic and financial reports from regional as well as international organisations, the clearer the case for regional integration, particularly as it relates to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Yet, I am not at all convinced that issues in relation to the CSME are being given the prominence they deserve on the agenda for our leaders to discuss. Why the CSME?
In a July 2012 column entitled Making Regional Integration Work, I noted that “Indeed, Barbados is not the only country in the region that is presently struggling to overcome the difficult economic times. Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Belize are among other CARICOM nations that are faced with many financial and economic challenges of their own and they too are searching for solutions that are deemed appropriate to their particular circumstances.
“The question that arises is whether these countries can better overcome their economic problems through regional integration?  To me, the answer to this question has always been in the affirmative.  It is for this reason that I firmly believe that we in CARICOM have to continue to work hard to ensure that regional integration works not only for one or a few countries but for all.”
In less than two years since I made those observations, Grenada has once again returned to the International Monetary Fund for financial and technical support as the country undergoes what it describes as a home-grown structural adjustment programme.
Like Grenada, Jamaica too is also involved in massive economic manoeuvrings with huge financial injections from the Fund. And here in Barbados, the Government has been forced to implement its own version of an “austerity package” to address its burning fiscal and debt situations with the hope of eventually turning around an ailing economy.
What is particularly amazing about this situation is that both Barbados and Grenada went through similar exercises in the 1990s that resulted in the stabilisation of both economies.
I strongly believe that with a functioning CSME the recent economic fortunes of these two countries as well as others in the region would have been much different.
If that premise holds as I do believe it should, then, despite the present challenges facing CARICOM countries as documented for example in the most recent review of our economies by the Caribbean Development Bank, our economic history should convince all and sundry that we have much more to lose going the distance alone as opposed to promoting regional integration that would at the very minimum give our economies the chance to grow and expand through some collective actions, programmes and policies.
And that is why I favour the CSME as our best economic strategy as we face a future with as much challenges as there are opportunities. What do you think?
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