KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has identified what he says are “crisscrossing poles” emerging within the Caribbean region.
He made the point at a media briefing last week during which he said he is writing CARICOM Secretary General Irwin LaRocque outlining his views on the regional integration movement.
Gonsalves said that with Haiti as a special guest member of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America’s Peoples’ Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), and Suriname and St. Lucia saying they intend to join ALBA, this will bring to six the number of CARICOM members of the regional bloc.
If St. Lucia joins ALBA, it will join St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members of the bloc.
“I happen to know that other countries, or political parties of other countries, including some which are in opposition, are expressing an interest to join ALBA,” Gonsalves said. He, however, noted that this country’s opposition New Democratic Party has made it clear that, in government, it will withdraw from ALBA and its petroleum facility, PetroCaribe.
“… other countries in the Caribbean are lining up to enter and the reasons being that it is beneficial. And it is as simple as that. It is beneficial to your country,” Gonsalves said, adding that leaders have to think strategically.
He said that CARIFORUM — CARICOM and the Dominican Republic — signed an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union, the trading dimensions of which speaks to the opening up of the E.U. to CARIFORUM goods and services to trade without duties and tariffs and for a gradual lessening of tariff on E.U. commodities coming into the region.
“Now, from the moment you have that, a process of integration commences. So in addition to CARICOM, you have the criss-crossing issues with the economic partnership agreement with the European Union. Then, within CARICOM, you have six independent countries forming an economic union: the OECS. And then crisscrossing is ALBA-TCP with several countries from CARICOM and the OECS becoming members, including members from Latin America,” he said.
Gonsalves said that in the northwestern Caribbean, through CARIFORUM and the E.U., there are closer trading links between The Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Europe.
“Where The Bahamas is not part of the trading arrangements in CARICOM, they become part of the trading arrangement between those member states of CARIFORM and the European Union. So, in the northwestern Caribbean, you are going to have what I call a pole of integration,” he said.
“And I am giving the country and the region the benefit of my strategic thinking on this subject as to where we will be going, where the region is shaping with all these integration movement and the criss-crossing elements.”
Gonsalves said that in Cuba, the western hemisphere’s only communist state, “a process of commercial liberalisation is taking place, … starting out gradually.” Cuba now has nearly 400,000 self-employed persons, Gonsalves said.
“When that process is further accelerated, in time, Cuba is going to be part of that northwestern pole in our Caribbean civilisation. And as the decolonisation process accelerates in Puerto Rico — not to the point necessarily of Puerto Rico becoming independent, … Puerto Rico will also be part of that locale,” he said.
Gonsalves also identified a southern and southeastern pole involving the Windward and Leeward Islands, Guyana, Suriname, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago..
“ … the Trinidad and Tobago economy is one which would more than likely exercise the leadership in this southern pole and south-eastern pole. Of course, the economic strength would have to have a manifestation in the political awareness in Trinidad to assume that leadership position.
“And then, within that south-eastern pole of integration, with all those criss-crossing elements, is the OECS, which is at once a protective mechanism for the special and differential conditions of these small countries and yet open to build a modern competitive post-colonial economy, which is global, regional, and national,” Gonsalves further stated.
He said that ALBA cuts across all these poles of integration. “And the critical issue is to see how all of these dovetail with one another in this modern period of post-colonial and a post-imperial era, where you had one dominant superpower,” he said, adding that CARICOM is negotiating a trade development agreement with Canada.
“That’s another crosscutting development that is going to take place. People who want to stay in their little part of the world are not going to survive. They are going to be dinosaurs,” Gonsalves said.