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Guyana Chronicle:-  By Ariana Gordon

CARICOM members have to become more practical in their approach to the concepts of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME), St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said Friday.

The occasion was a two-day shareholder consultation on the CSME at the Ramada Princess Hotel on the lower East Bank.
Dr Gonsalves said that while on paper the plans may seem ideal, they are far from realistic, and regional leaders have begun to lose faith in the realisation of the CSME. The CSME is an integrated development strategy envisioned at the 10th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM back in July 1990 in Grand Anse, Grenada.

It was designed to benefit the Region’s citizens by providing more and better opportunities to produce and sell goods and services and to attract investment.
According to the Region’s longest serving Prime Minister, there is a lot yet to be done on the Single Market component of the CSME.

He feels that much more can be done in the areas of integration, movement, functional cooperation with respect to health, education, human resources development and foreign policy, but does not believe it is easy to make a clear demarcation between the Single Market and Single Economy.

As it relates to the issues facing the concept of a single economy, Dr Gonsalves does not believe that they would be ironed out “in the foreseeable future.”
He explained that because of the nature of respective economies within CARICOM, and the uneven though combined state of underdevelopment, varying challenges will continue to exist, and it is because of this that he doesn’t believe that the region can move towards a single economy.

He said, too, that within CARICOM there are unevenly yoked units “and the region is not going to move towards deeper integration if we remain so unequally yoked.”
“Those who have a greater advantage in the integration movement need to appreciate that, and lessen the extent of the unequal yoking. These are practical matters of life, living, production and reproduction,” the Vincentian Prime Minister who has served four terms in office declared.

He pointed to the freedom of movement and the six-month definite stay for CARICOM nationals in each country in accordance with the Treaty of Chaguaramas while pointing to the Myrie case of 2013.
“Let us be practical!” he demanded as he said the region’s domestic populations will not allow an influx of persons. “Let us be honest about that,” he said, pointing to Jamaica and Haiti as examples.

Prime Minister Gonsalves made it clear the principal beneficiary of CARICOM, with respect to trade and single market, is Trinidad and Tobago. He pointed to challenges his country faces with respect to business and obtaining foreign currency in Trinidad, while stating that he is not adopting an anti-Trinidad and Tobago stance.

“St Vincent and the Grenadines [buys] from Trinidad and Tobago EC$150M worth of goods. US$60M and we have sold to them up to two years ago up to EC$2M mainly in agricultural products. That number has fallen now; the aggregate value and volume have fallen significantly, because we cannot get foreign exchange for our agricultural produce. I raised this matter, [but] there is no solution,” he said.

As a result of the difficulties faced by some countries within CARICOM, Dr Gonsalves has called for an amendment to the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to accommodate the economic union of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), strengthen operationally Chapter 7 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to better protect the interest of disadvantaged countries and regions and sectors and consolidate and extend the operation of cooperation, security arrangement, foreign policy coordination and the trade single market activities.

He has also called for the revamping of Caricom governance structures to accommodate, in a measured way, super-national initiatives in targeted areas of integration including trade and economic integration.

“The Secretariat (CARICOM) can talk until it is blue in the face… unless you have a mechanism for super-national initiatives, something that came to the European Commission in respect of integration, it is going to be a gentleman’s agreement,” he said while noting that the Caribbean Court of Justice is the only entity which enforces anything. He also called for an upgrade of the functions of the CARICOM Secretariat.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding like Dr Gonsalves admitted that the Region is further away from the CSME that was initially envisioned 30 years ago when the ‘Grand Anse Declaration’ was adopted.
Golding accepted that much more thought has to be put into the CSME. “It seems to me that some member states are of the view that the CSME in its full implementation is likely to do them more harm than good it’s an issue that we have to confront,” he told stakeholders.

He like Dr Gonsalves called for there to be a realistic approach to the matter as he urged that such approach must be isolated from finger-pointing and blame game. “The CARICOM Secretariat must not be the scapegoat for CARICOM’s failure,” Golding stated emphatically.

The former Jamaican leader said too that because of the changes within the economic environment since CSME was introduced, CARICOM more than ever needs the concept to work. “I believe that it could provide the countries of the region with a better chance to contend with the ferociousness of the global market,” he posited.

Golding served as the Chairman of the Commission to Review Jamaica’s Relations within the CARICOM and CARIFORUM Frameworks. The report commonly called ‘the Golding Report’ has made several recommendations on the way forward in the integration process in the region.

Similarly, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque spoke candidly about the challenges facing the region with respect to the full implementation of the CSME. “We need to move the agenda along much faster. The time it takes to get things done is a cost to the private sector and it’s a cost in terms of the credibility to the community at large,” he said.

LaRocque like Dr Gonsalves and Golding reiterated that “we have not done near enough on elements of the single economy.” He said the single economy is needed to buttress what is needed in the single market and as such the voice of all stakeholders must be heard.

“We take too long to get things done,” he said noting that some initiatives were started since 2004 but are yet to achieve intended goals. “Why must it take so long for us to get vital things done?” he asked while declaring, “it is either we get it done or move on to other issues.”

Other speakers included Dr Justin Ram, Director, Economics Department, Caribbean Development Bank; and Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General, Trade and Economic Integration, CARICOM Secretariat.