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Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. (iWN file photo)

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) — St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves Friday defended the regional integration movement, CARICOM, even as he acknowledged that it was becoming increasingly difficult to implement all aspects of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

“Without the regional integration movement we are going to have more difficulties by ourselves but taking into account that some of the old modes which we have articulated we have to interrogate them in order to get the most optimal regional integration apparatus to benefit our people,” Gonsalves told a two-day consultation on the CSME here.

He told the consultation that is being hosted by CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, and attended by a number of regional institutions as well as former Jamaica prime minister, Bruce Golding that “it is not a question for us to duck from regional integration but to embrace it, rethink it and to do practical things which it would better the lives of our people, which is what the integration movement is about”.

According to the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat website, the CSME is an enlarged market which offers: more and better opportunities to produce and sell goods and services and to attract investment; greater economies of scale; increased competitiveness; full employment and improved standards of living for the people of the Caribbean Community.

“The ultimate goal of the CSME is to provide the foundation for growth and development through the creation of a single economic space for the production of competitive goods and services. The CSME is at the heart of CARICOM’s economic integration; and economic integration is one of four pillars on which CARICOM rests in pursuit of its objectives,” it added.

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In announcing the two-day consultation, the secretariat said the event, which is being facilitated with the assistance of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), will discuss whether the CSME as currently configured sufficiently supports sustainable growth and development and the free movement of skills and persons as an integrating measure among other areas.

Gonsalves, the longest serving prime ministers within the regional grouping, was also of the view that hope is fading among his regional colleagues when it comes to the full implementation of all elements of the CSME that allows for the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.

Gonsalves said that he is not so sure that the single economy issues will be resolved in the foreseeable future or even in his lifetime, saying the time has come for the region to keep many of its plans as simply aspiration and start to do as many practical things as possible.

He said he doesn’t believe the region can move towards a single economy because of the nature of respective economies and the uneven stages of development.

“There are lots more we can do in respect of the other three areas of the integration movement that is to say: functional cooperation in respect of health, education, human resources development generally…,” Gonsalves added.

He outlined a number of “practical things” that CARICOM should focus on. These include amending the Treaty of Chaguaramas to accommodate the Economic Union of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), operational strengthening of Chapter Seven of the Treaty which addresses to better protect the interests of disadvantaged countries, regions and sectors, among a seven-point list.

“We have to accept that the way globalisation has proceeded that CARICOM is going to be an overarching integrated mechanism … a variable geometry of integration,’ he said, telling the consultation that the way CARICOM is currently constructed, the region cannot move to deeper integration if it remains so unequally yoked.

“… and those who have a greater advantage in integration movement they need to appreciate that and lessen the extent of unequal yoking,” he said, insisting that there is a need for much more to be done with respect to the other areas of the integration movement.

Gonsalves said that there was need for a revamping of governance structures and an amendment to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the regional integration movement.

In his address to the opening ceremony, LaRocque, who in the past has said that while the CSME continues to be a work in progress, it is sufficiently advanced to be used more effectively by the regional private sector, noted that the framework for the initiative has long been in place.

He reiterated that not much work on elements of the single economy has been undertaken and that the journey to its realization still requires commitment from all stakeholders.

“We take too long to get things done in the community,” LaRocque said, noting that there were matters outstanding dating as far back as 2005.

He said the challenge now is to understand why it takes so long to get things done, insisting there was need to move the agenda at a quicker pace.

“The time it takes to get things done is a cost in terms of credibility to the community at large… its either get it done or move onto to something else.”

12 replies on “PM Gonsalves bats for regional integration amid concerns within CSME”

  1. Such a very important topic and discussion…… But yet no comments from the usual suspects.
    Really makes you think. No wonder as a nation we are mentally stagnant.

    1. C. ben-David says:

      What else is there to say except that CARICOM — a grouping made up people with a shared history and culture — is a wasteful, costly, and dysfunctional organization as shown by the inability of its crab-in-a-barrel politicians not being able to even agree on such fundamental issues as labour mobility and the free trade in goods and services as well as countless reports written about it shortcomings and failures.

      Compare this to the tightly integrated European Union of formerly chronically warring states composed of seemingly incompatible ethnic and linguistic populations. Yes, Great Britain has voted to leave the Union but this decision seems likely to be short lived if it happens at all.

      About the only thing CARICOM is unanimous about are the extortion of greedy slavery reparations from many of these same European Union countries, a task it will fail to accomplish, thereby adding to its long list of other failed efforts.

      1. Ben not much to say but you touched on a great deal in that short space lol.
        Now mention the solutions or advice to everything you mentioned.
        And don’t tell me you don’t have solutions because what’s the sense of pointing out a problem but can’t give an answer. That’s like a teacher telling you you’re wrong but unable to give a correction. Well then stay quiet on criticism.

      2. AI, some problems have no answer. If all problems had an answer we would be living in a perfect world. If you want all the answers, you will have to wait until your Maker allows you into the Kingdom of Heaven, a place you will only be allowed to enter if you live a good life and are kind to your neighbours, including people like me who you love to belittle.

  2. Agustus Carr says:

    Regional integration will disenfranchise smaller Caribbean Islands. The playing field would never be level. I love my Caribbean brothers and sisters but we are better off on our own. The reality is, smaller countries will be overrun by criminals from the larger countries.

    Let’s just continue to collaborate on the important issues and leave integration alone. Do you really want persons from abroad to compete with Vincentians for the few local jobs available in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines? How would you feel if 100,000 Haitian Migrants decide to seek asylum in SVG or any of the other Caribbean Island for that matter.

    There are many dangers in integration. Integration diminishes the significance of some countries and overburden your social services. Britain learn this from being in the European Union. Germany and France has significantly dwarf status of the United Kingdom hence the reason for Brexit.

    Let’s just respect each other’s souvereignty and negotiate better trade agreements.

    1. You raised some very important relevant points,
      Overall integration have more pros than con and the benefits outweighs the disadvantages. This needs more research study and due diligence.
      But yours points are well taken and supported.

  3. For once I agree with C. ben-David. Regional integration will NEVER work. But I also think the idea behind it is nonsensical. How do a group of small, service oriented economies benefit from forming themselves into a ‘single economic space’ (that is the expressed intention of the revised treaty of Chaguaramas’) that is collectively the size of the economy of Ecuador???? Are we not already essentially open to the whole world? How do tourism and international services benefit from being in a trading bloc?

    Luckily, my country opted out of the CSME from the very outset, although it did so for the wrong reasons (fear of massive immigration from the rest of the region).

    The entire proposition makes no sense. And it is always being pushed for political reasons masquerading as economic ones. The latter do not exist.

    1. With all due respect…… I may not be a economist or well grounded in high level of education but how did NAFTA benefit from integrated trade agreements all these decades and how do Canada, USA and England benefits from integrated trade , leaving out the size scale. What are the fundamental strategies and the core of their objectives

      1. The countries and trade blocs you allude to are to a substantial degree exporters of physical goods, although some have significant services sectors. In the case of the Caribbean, they are small, completely open economies that are not only trading in services, but are trading in the exact same services! In other words, they are competitors that will not benefit from access to one another’s markets on terms any more beneficial than the access they presently have to international markets (being open economies). It is simply a case of monkey see monkey do that makes many of our regional politicians seek to do what they see others in TOTALLY DIFFERENT circumstances doing.

        I would like to reverse the question and ask someone to point out what single benefit could come to The Bahamas, for instance, from CSME? Trade is already free (because like most regional countries) we have no protective duties or policies to speak of. Ask yourself the same question with regard to any regional country and the answer is the same: NO BENEFIT AT ALL! It is a purely sentimental exercise.

      2. Two questions I want you to tell the people… 1. What’s the main and number one plus only source of economic revenue in Bahamas… 2. Who are these companies, enterprises and entities own by???
        1+1=2 no way around it.
        I’m yet to be convinced otherwise, but I stand corrected. In the days of slavery the masters would break groups of rebellious slaves through mental manipulation first to turn them against each other.

  4. @AI
    The main source of revenue in the Bahamas remains import duties, followed by a recently introduced (2015) VAT regime. In other words, taxes on consumption. In my opinion, both are regressive and hopefully we will move to an income tax, which presently does not exist. Employment is driven principally by the tourism industry, which is globalized and as such has no national complexion to its ownership. It also changes a lot. At present, the largest investments in tourism are Chinese (Baha Mar), American (Atlantis) and Jamaican (Sandals). Atlantis was originally South African until it was taken over by a hedge fund investment group.

    Joining trade blocs does not localize ownership of the commanding heights in an economy. In fact, it hastens internationalization in most cases. Hence, multinationals own all major hotel groups in the USA and even such iconic American brands as Burger King are not largely American owned. But in capitalist, globalized systems it does not matter who owns the economy from an international standpoint. How many hotels in New York do you think belong to New Yorkers? Not many. In the case of Miami the answer is easy: none.

    Are you suggesting that being part of CSME will make more of our local hotel chains locally (or Caribbean) owned? If so please explain how.

    There already exist no barriers to anyone on earth building a major hotel. So how would regional integration change that, unless it created barriers to anyone other than Caribbean investors? As you see from Sandals, Caribbean investment is welcome just like anyone else. But in a tourist sector that is dominated by properties like Baha Mar and Atlantis, the largest projects are likely to emanate from the largest global economies (China and the US). Baha Mar cost US$4 billion and employs 5,000 people and growing. Atlantis employs 8,000. Both pay average salaries of US$35,000 and up. Investments of this nature permit us to keep 1 to 1 dollar parity with the US. How would anyone benefit from policies that either nationalize or ‘regionalize’ ownership.

    Rather, policies that reserve employment as well as ownership of the retail and professional sectors to locals are what sustain and grow a middle class. Regional integration is a delusion of politicians who understand nothing about their own countries and how they work.

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