BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can learn much from its sub-regional grouping, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), according to Vincentian Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.
Gonsalves, in a speech read on his behalf by Foreign Affairs Minister Sen. Douglas Slater, told the 32nd CARICOM Summit that while CARICOM “was more or less marking time over the past year or two” the OECS established its economic union in January.
Gonsalves said that by Aug. 1, there would be complete “freedom of movement” of citizens between the six nations of the Economic Union: Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
He further said that there are altered governance arrangements to suit this more profound OECS Union.
This deepening of the OECS Uniondemands an amendment to the CARICOM Treaty itself to take account juridically of the explicit special and differential treatment of the member-states of the OECS, Gonsalves said.
He said the OECS has a range of issues targeted for resolution within the framework of CARICOM.
“At the top of the pile is the reality that OECS member-states do not benefit proportionately or at all from the ‘single market’ arrangements in CARICOM,” Gonsalves said.
He said the CARICOM trading regime has contributed to the denudation of the manufacturing base in the OECS without necessarily benefiting the OECS consumer in terms of competitive price and quality.
The compensating mechanisms in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, designed to assist the “disadvantaged” countries of the OECS, have been insufficiently rolled out, Gonsalves said, adding that OECS leaders look forward to the next round of financing for the CARICOM Development Fund.
“CARICOM, in its trading and ‘single market’ manifestations, is unlikely to survive unchallenged if it continues to be too highly skewed or unequally yoked in favour of one or two of the ‘Big Four’ [Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago].”
Gonsalves also spoke to “hassle-free” travel and “freedom of movement” of CARICOM nationals.
“Clearly, ‘hassle-free’ travel is a norm to which all civilised peoples must aspire to achieve,” he said, adding, “immigration and customs personnel are obliged to enforce the laws and regulations of each nation-state”.
Gonsalves, however, said that while officials enforce the immigration laws of their various countries “there are clear strictures laid down in addition to a wide ambit of discretion.
“Surely, it is not beyond our civilised regimes to accommodate visitors in a manner which is not dehumanising, insulting, belittling or embarrassing. At practically every port of entry in CARICOM, we simply do not treat our CARICOM brothers and sisters as well as we should. In some cases, the treatment is wholly unacceptable,” he said.
Gonsalves spoke of the considerations that arise “regarding the narrower issue of ‘freedom of movement’ of CARICOM nationals”.
He mentioned the rights each state must observed in accordance with international law, the explicit categories of CARICOM nationals accorded “freedom of movement”, and those outside of the “freedom of movement” categories — who are subject to general immigration laws.
“And fourthly, in respect of the “freedom of movement” categories, do the circumstances of these persons give rise to contingent rights, and, if so, what are these contingent rights?” Gonsalves said.
He said that within CARICOM, “freedom of movement” is likely to be regulated in the foreseeable future but added that it “has to be dealt with honestly, realistically, transparently, meaningfully, and without a meanness of spirit”.
Gonsalves spoke of the factors that “enter the mix of considerations which limit the extension of categories for ‘freedom of movement’”.
“However, once the categories have been agreed upon, CARICOM member-states have a legal obligation to comply unless there is an explicit derogation granted under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas itself. In short, everything which we do in this very sensitive area must be strictly rules-based, certain, and infused with a generosity of spirit,” he said.