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.
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.”