Amid an escalating trade war between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica — two of the English-speaking Caribbean’s largest economies — a frustrated former Jamaican commerce minister suggested what was once unthinkable: that his country consider leaving the Caribbean Community’s regional trade bloc.
“We should not support the notion of Caricom forever; it must be Caricom for as long as it satisfies Jamaica,” Karl Samuda said during a recent budget debate.
Jamaica’s leaders have said that the country is unlikely to leave Caricom anytime soon, but the debate illustrates the larger challenge facing the regional bloc almost four decades after Caribbean leaders re-created the European Union-like integration movement to allow for the free movement of goods, services and skilled labor across the geographically, fragmented region. Still, the future of the regional bloc will be a key topic as Caribbean leaders begin their annual meeting Wednesday in the small Eastern Caribbean nation of St. Lucia.
“Caricom is not only about trade,” Caricom Secretary General Irwin LaRocque said last week in Jamaica. “It should not be judged solely by its performance in that area, as important as that may be. It is about the overall development of our people.”
Still, leaders of the 15-member bloc face the goal of reenergizing efforts to stitch together a single market and economy through closer social, political and economic ties. The task comes as some Caribbean nations join other trade blocs to keep their weak economies afloat.
Adding to the discussion is a Caricom-commissioned study that says the organization must restructure or risk its own demise.
“Caricom has lost its way badly,” according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Miami Herald. “While its difficulties have plainly been building up for years, they are now coming to a head. Without fundamental change, Caricom could expire over the next few years.”
The blistering report, as well as regional observers, note that a lack of political will and implementation of decisions among Caribbean leaders are leading to growing pessimism and disillusion.
“Few Caricom meetings result in clear decisions from which action is initiated and then effectively carried out,” the study said, adding that meetings “seem to have become the last refuge of officials uncertain of how to take regional integration forward.”
For their part, Caribbean leaders say change is under way, arguing that the political will exists for them to take the necessary steps — many of them outlined in the study — to move forward with regional integration. Acknowledging that “powerful forces” at home often hinder decision-making, LaRocque said future decisions will require more clarity and prioritization to determine what the bloc wants to achieve and how its 16 million citizens will benefit.
“How will it roll out? What are the practical steps needed to be taken to implement it? Is it politically doable? Is it technically doable? These are some of the questions which we should be asking in putting proposals forward,” LaRocque said. “We must set targets which take into account not only the necessity and urgency of achieving the goal but, equally important, what it takes to get there and the resources available to us to do so.”