KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has highlighted to CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque some of the “specific grouses” the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has with the regional bloc.
Gonsalves, in an 8-page letter to LaRocque this month, mentioned “the limited capitalisation” of the CARICOM Development Fund and “the veritable collapse” of the CARICOM Petroleum Facility out of Trinidad and Tobago.
He spoke of the decline of the manufacturing sector in the eight-member OECS, “occasioned, in part, by unfair competition from at least one other CARICOM exporting country and the absence of a proper enforcement of the relevant CARICOM rules regarding protection of certain manufactured commodities from the OECS”.
Among the other “grouses”, Gonsalves mentioned unresolved challenges in air transportation, “including unfair competitive subsidies granted to one airline”.
While he did not identify the airline in his letter, Gonsalves has complained repeatedly about the fuel “subsidy” Port-of-Spain gives to Caribbean Airlines (CAL). Gonsalves, who is one of LIAT’s shareholder prime ministers, said the subsidy is unfair and that LIAT is seeking legal advise on having the situation resolved through the courts.
He further wrote of Trinidad and Tobago’s “illegitimate monopoly” through the Caribbean Air Navigation and Advisory services, of all the resources derived from the Piarco Flight Information Region, which includes the airspace of the OECS countries and Barbados.
Gonsalves also said that there is a “prevailing sentiment” in OECS that “CARICOM’s service to, and sensibility towards, the OECS member-states are less than desirable”.
“Some of these complaints are more easily addressed than others but they are all evidently soluble, if we are committed, on an on-going basis, to solving them. If not satisfactorily alleviated, these problems or limitations would fester further; in time they are likely to become septic and debilitating,” Gonsalves said.
He said there is urgency for the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established CARICOM, “to be amended to make special provision for the reality of the economic union in the OECS and the Revised Treaty of Basseterre”, which established the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union.
Assessing CARICOM nations
In assessing the 14 independent member-states of CARICOM, Gonsalves said Bahamas and Haiti “are engaged only in ‘functional’, as distinct from ‘economic/trade engagements” even as Belize and Suriname “have historically been on the margins of Caribbean integration, though recently they have moved towards its centre-stage”.
Jamaica, Gonsalves said, has been preoccupied between 2007 and 2011 “with its own internal challenges and restricted engagement in CARICOM, conceptually and practically, was less weighty in regional affairs than hitherto”. Trinidad and Tobago, in most recent times, “does not evince a practical enthusiasm for a deeper CARICOM union and has all but abandoned leadership responsibilities in Project CARICOM,” he said.
While Guyana continues “to hold the fort”, as home of the CARICOM secretariat, Gonsalves said, “even its most vaunted proposal, the Jagdeo Initiative in Agriculture, has come to naught, in practice, if not in policy, due mainly to insufficiency of resources”. In the meantime, the OECS nations “have immersed themselves in sub-regional ‘economic union’, given the limited material benefits, if any, which accrue to them from CARICOM as currently configured and functioning”.
“That pithy summation of the member-states’ actual relationship to CARICOM encapsulates that which scars our innocence and retards the optimal functioning of CARICOM itself,” Gonsalves wrote.
“Correctives suggest themselves; and the flesh may be willing by the spirit is weak; the mood is sombre. To be sure, mood has to be contrasted to strength, but a prolonged, indifferent mood saps strength and induces debilitating ailments.”