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Ramphal warns against ’devaluing goals’ of CSME

Jamaica Observer

Ramphal warns against ’devaluing goals’ of CSME

By Rickey Singh, Observer Caribbean correspondent

29 January 2009

Sir Shridath Ramphal has warned against the danger of "devaluing the goals" of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) and is urging the region’s decision makers to avoid a course that could only be "to our peril" at a time of enormous economic challenges.

The former three-term Secretary General of the Commonwealth feels that every opportunity, including the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Trinidad and Tobago, should instead be seized to raise the profile of Caricom "in the remaking of the Caribbean".

Ramphal, a former Chancellor of the University of the West Indies and chairman of The West Indian Commission, made the remarks while delivering the 2009 Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture recently at the Frank Collymore Hall in which he praised the late Barbadian Prime Minister’s vision and commitment to Caribbean integration.

"In our severely challenging and rapidly changing world", he told the audience on the eve of Wednesday’s observance of "Errol Barrow’s Day" (January 20, a national holiday), "the peoples of our region can ill afford to drift, much less be driven apart ; especially now", as he recalled :

"From the earliest days of CARIFTA (Caribbean Free Trade Area that led to Caricom), Errol Barrow (one of its founders) knew well the importance of the West Indian market to Barbados, an importance that has only increased over time."

He quoted statistics from the Caricom Secretariat to point out that "in 2007 the Caricom market accounted for 58.04 per cent of Barbados’ total exports of goods, a higher percentage than that enjoyed by the three other ’more developed countries’ of the Community (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana)...".

Barbados also had, said Ramphal, "a balance of trade surplus in value terms that was second only to Trinidad and Tobago’s with all that means for Barbadian jobs, revenues and the private sector.

"So", he added, "while Errol was committed to deeper Caribbean integration because he firmly believed in the validity and importance of a West Indian identity, he also recognised and keenly promoted the value of its economic dimension. Today, we devalue the goals of the CSME at our peril..."

He offered "glimpses of the Commonwealth over its 60-year history and some of the important developments and contributions involving Caricom leaders, including helping to end apartheid in South Africa".

Ramphal contended that the coming October Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Port-of-Spain offers a good opportunity "to begin again the remaking of the Caribbean" - embracing a sentiment expressed by President Barack Obama in his inauguration speech to "the remaking of America".