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Elizabeth Morgan | As CARICOM heads prepare for their Bahamas meeting

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2023 | 12:23 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking at the opening ceremony of the 39th regular meeting of heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James in 2018.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaking at the opening ceremony of the 39th regular meeting of heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James in 2018.

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be holding their 44th regular conference in The Bahamas, February 15 to 17. This conference will be chaired by the Hon Philip Davis, prime minister of The Bahamas, who is the current...

Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) will be holding their 44th regular conference in The Bahamas, February 15 to 17. This conference will be chaired by the Hon Philip Davis, prime minister of The Bahamas, who is the current chair of CARICOM. It seems that heads will be having regular conferences more often in the course of the year. So there will be two regular in-person conferences instead of one as was customary. Intersessional meetings will be held virtually.

With this pending conference, I reviewed the communiqué of the 43rd conference held in July 2022 in Suriname. It includes decisions on health – the impact of COVID-19; CSME implementation; advancing the CARICOM agri-food systems agenda; transportation; energy security; CARICOM industrial policy; Haiti; climate change; community governance; security; reparations; and the Summit of the Americas. This gives an idea of The Bahamas agenda.

I have no doubt though that with the conference being hosted by The Bahamas, a priority item on the agenda will be Haiti as The Bahamas is very concerned about the inflow of refugees. On the CSME, recall that The Bahamas is not participating, but for its members, implementation remains an important item. For the Eastern Caribbean, transportation has to be elevated.

I understand that this conference could see CARICOM heads meeting with very special guests which could include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, the director general of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala; and the president of African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), Professor Benedict Oramah.

The one-year anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine is on February 24, with reports of a new Russian offensive to be launched. This war should be on the heads’ agenda given its severe economic impact. The threat of global recession is still there even with the IMF’s recent forecast being a bit more optimistic as economies show greater resilience and China reopened.

INTEGRATION OR DISINTEGRATION

As I considered this upcoming CARICOM Heads meeting in the context of the 50th anniversary, I listened to two very interesting lectures which were:

1.“Champion of CARICOM: the next fifty years”, which was the Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture delivered by Hon Philip J. Pierre, prime minister of Saint Lucia, on January 20.

2.“Beyond CARICOM: Reimaging the Caribbean nation and economy”, which is the Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr DeLisle Worrell, former governor of the Barbados central bank.

These lectures left me feeling more pessimistic about CARICOM. The signatories to the 1973 Treaty of Chaguramas establishing CARICOM would not be happy with where the region is today, especially as it relates to trade and economic integration. The reality is that the achievements have been few, progress disappointing.

Even as the heads have met and made forceful and eloquent speeches, the feeling is that not much tangible progress is being made and, in some cases, the region seems to be on a track to disintegration rather than deepening integration. This is even as heads have been declaring, in the last two years that integration is critical to addressing the multiple crises and to building resilience.

Cricket was the first embodiment of regional integration and success. Today, cricket has become a regional embarrassment, a dysfunctional operation, and if it reflects the state of the CARICOM region, it signals a seriously ailing region. There is also the view that The University of the West Indies (UWI), another body that fostered regional integration, is now more national than regional and is not serving to aid in regional economic problem-solving and policy formation. Free movement of people is not being facilitated in the region and transportation was described as a nightmare by the prime minister of Saint Lucia.

With CARICOM’s 50th anniversary also on their agenda, the CARICOM Heads in The Bahamas will need to commence serious introspection. How did regional integration become derailed and can it be recovered? Is it now a lost cause?

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.