How Has CARICOM Fared After 40 Years?

On Thursday July 4, 2013, Heads of Government of the 15-nation Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) celebrated the organisation’s 40th anniversary. Over the past 40 years, the inter-governmental organisation has seen its fair share of successes as well as failures. In many ways, this anniversary is a cause for celebration, but there is also reason for lamentation.

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The Successes and Failures

Undoubtedly, there have been numerous success cases coming out of CARICOM, such as building on inherited institutions and the creation of others. In the same breath however, there has been weakening of other inherited institutions such as the University of the West Indies (UWI).

After sixty- five years, one would expect that the UWI would have better consolidated itself as a globally respected institution of research and development. While the institution has certainly made strides, the three campuses of the university seem set on a course of competition with each other, replicating schools in various disciplines; the result of which simply squanders resources and make for poor planning. 

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The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is another example. Optimally, the court has been established to serve as the court of final jurisdiction over matters related to the CARICOM Treaty. However, due to insular nationalism and inaction, there is little confidence in the court and it remains unaccepted by 12 of the 15 states as their final court of appeal. 

What about policy? On foreign policy, for example, the 14 independent member countries of CARICOM have also been unable to fashion a common stance on a number of critical areas, the most important being a relationship with China.  

What about trade? We all know of the trade war brewing between Trinidad and Jamaica. Further, the region is now importing US$4 billion in food annually.  Yet, Guyana, Suriname, Belize, Jamaica and Dominica produce enough food not only to feed the region but also to export.

What’s the worst part? This is just the tip of the iceberg!  

In many ways, it’s unbelievable that CARICOM hasn’t advanced past where it is today. This, especially with the wide array of natural resources of the region – oil, bauxite, rare earth, gold, forestry, tourism and renewable sources of energy such as sun, wind and geothermal and hydroelectric potential.

How is it that after 40 years, member states have not co-operated to invest collectively in, and jointly exploit, these endowments to benefit the people of the region? How is it that the organisation is still locked within primitive trade relationships, that while increasing in volume, has benefited only a few of its member states, notably Trinidad and Tobago?  

To this end, what is the point of even celebrating the founding of this organisation? Well, for one, it remains in existence and while there have been difficulties, various members of the community have indeed benefited and continue to do so. The problem is largely one of equity

The Way Forward

So how can CARICOM, on this its anniversary and onward solidify the process of  deeper integration that, by now, should have been far advanced? How does CARICOM render the countries of the region stronger economically and less vulnerable in the international community?

Firstly, the community needs to be more proactive and absolute in its actions. Tough decisions need to be taken through collaboration and the results must be implemented with vigour and a sense of purpose. How could it be that a start to implementing the Caribbean Single Market was delayed until 2008, nineteen years after the decision was made to do so in 1989? Such lax states of action must be ended and a new era of purposeful action initiated.

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CARICOM now needs to find unity in its policies on regional policies such as trade, foreign policy, overseas investment, international lending instructions, etc. It needs to complete the movement towards the Single Economy and thus fashion engagement and cooperation.

These concepts are vital to improving the efficiency and competitiveness of CARICOM countries and to achieving a higher sustainable rate of economic growth — to reduce the high debt faced by Caribbean countries and enhance the livelihood of their populaces.  Otherwise, the result will continue to be and even more-so, onerous.

By: Norvan Martin

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