Jamaica Observer, Jamaica
CSME on slow march
By Rickey Singh
30 November 2008
There are growing concerns, regionwide, that the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) project may be in serious danger of not being realised as planned for 2015. It is currently on a slow march.
Worse, there is the perception that some governments and sections of the region’s private sector no longer seem to be as anxious to attain this objective as they once were. Hence, they are now making little or no effort to generate public interest in how both the CSME and the recently-signed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) can simultaneously work for this region.
Two former long-serving prime ministers of the Caribbean Community, Jamaica’s PJ Patterson and Barbados’ Owen Arthur have publicly expressed their deep disappointment over lack of progress in arrangements to operationalise the single economy dimension of the CSME.
In Guyana on Tuesday, at the start of the two-day 26th meeting of the Community’s Council for Trade and Economic Development, regional ministers, among them Barbados’ newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, were still stressing the importance of the realisation of the CSME.
The concern to get the CSME functioning was also expressed by Guyana’s outgoing Minister of Foreign Trade and International Co-operation Henry Jeffrey (soon to assume the new role as his government’s ambassador to neighbouring Suriname).
Question, therefore, for all Caricom governments, is who or what is responsible for holding up the outstanding CSME-readiness arrangements for the envisaged inauguration in 2015 ? Another question is whether such arrangements will now be pursued in preference to those required for implementation of the EPA ?
For all the "consultations" that have taken place, and pledges made to make the CSME and now EPA work to advance the fortunes of this region, there remains much work to be done ; and very little information of significance has been forthcoming from member governments and the Community secretariat on specific steps being taken to move the processes forward.
Just over a fortnight ago, ex-Prime Minister Patterson - a four-term head of government who had also chaired during that period Caricom’s Prime Ministerial Subcommittee on External Economic Relations - felt it necessary to note with disappointment in addressing the annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in St Maarten :
"...In respect of the single economy, I don’t detect that there has been any recent movement forward.... In terms of the single market itself, I am not sure that the movers and shakers quite realise what are the possibilities which arise from the creation of the single market, and I don’t think they have been exploited to any extent by the groups which would benefit from its existence..."
Read that as characteristically cautious reprimand by Patterson to those who may be stifling progress for the CSME.
Subsequently, came an even more pointed observation from former three-term Prime Minister Arthur who, as head of government had taken over from ex-Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, lead responsibility for CSME-readiness arrangements.
Delivering the keynote address to the 35th annual general meeting of the Caribbean Association of Indigenous Banks Inc, on November 18, Arthur left no one in doubt about his personal disappointment in an apparent inaction on the CSME front.
His topic was : The European Economic Partnership Agreement - Realising Benefits for our Financial Services Sector. In his presentation, the politician who was most vigorous in his consistency to push forward with the CSME, sounded this clear warning :
"To make the fullest uses of the new (EPA) arrangements, financial institutions will have to deal with accreditation and other mutual recognition of qualifications issues. The cost of entry into the EU market, and the requirement to assume a specific legal form may also prove problematic.
"However," declared Arthur, "the greater challenge the region may face in taking advantage of the EPA may come not from the EPA challenges, but from the region’s tardiness in putting its own house in order in respect to its regional initiative to become a single economy..."
At the same time, he has warned that "failure to carry out regional economic and financial liberalisation, as completed under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, will compromise severely the region’s capacity to take advantage of new economic partnership agreements with its major trading partners, or to fit the regional economy into the evolving global economy..."
While expressing it differently, the two former prime ministers of Caricom recognise the necessity for implementation of provisions of the EPA, and completion of readiness arrangements for the CSME to be pursued in a complementary manner. Arthur was specific in stating that they must "go hand in hand for both to be successful".
In view of the noticeable "tardiness" in pushing forward plans to operationalise the single economy segment of the CSME, whatever the difficulties at national or a regional level, perhaps some thought should be given to securing the temporary services of Arthur and Patterson - two very strong regionalists - to help remove hurdles stalling progress towards the 2015 goal for a seamless regional economy.
Or is it that given the nature of the beast that is our political culture, this would be expecting too much for adjustments by the region’s current political directorate, including governments in the two countries where Patterson and Arthur used to be prime ministers ?
Barbados’ Prime Minister Thompson, who had promised in July to host a special consultation on the CSME before year end, just recently told a meeting of the St Lucia Chamber of Commerce of his own anxiety for the Community to demonstrate a "proactive" stance to advance the region’s development, especially in view of the current global economic crisis.
Thompson strongly warned that prevailing economic conditions could lead to "high unemployment and declining standards of living..."