Last week, Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago accompanied by Prime Minister Tillman Thomas of Grenada, visited Dominica to brief local political leaders on a new initiative for deeper integration among four Caribbean countries.
At a meeting on August 14 in Port of Spain, the leaders of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, St. Vincent and St. Lucia launched an initiative aimed at collaboration towards the Achievement of a Single Market and Economy and Political Integration and Regional Air Transportation.
It is not yet clear if the new Single Market and Economy proposed by these four states would fit into or run at the side of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), to which all four islands have binding commitments. However, the four pioneers say they intend to establish a single economy by 2011 and political integration by 2013.
Indeed, while the proponents of the new initiative invite membership of all CARICOM states, they assert that no initiative associated with the implementation of their joint declaration would undermine the CSME or economic cohesion established by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
This break-off faction has clear implications for the wider regional integration process. In the first place, it implies a move towards a more uneven process in which a cadre moves in concert while the rest move at different paces. A union within a union could change the dynamic of the CSME dramatically and plunge it into a fog of uncertainty.
In addition, the new initiative seeks appropriate political integration, but the advocates have not yet defined this precisely. Does this amalgamation intend to move towards a single political process with unified political leadership within the union’s political space? This would seriously impact the self-determination of individual members.
Proponents of the new initiative claim that it would not affect the CSME negatively, but it is hard to see how they can maintain this line of reasoning if the movement mushrooms. The initiative invites membership of all CARICOM nations and if they all join, it is hard to see how the initiative could co-exist with CARICOM and the CSME.
This possibility has already brought a sharp response. The Jamaican government has adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach saying, “The decision of some CARICOM countries to establish a political union has implications for the structure and, indeed, the future of CARICOM.” Clearly, leaders of the region must resolve the issue quickly and decisively.
There is another troubling concern. Prime Minister Manning has a long history of initiating various political unions in the Caribbean. Many of his critics say this reflects his ambition to lead the region by virtue of being leader of the most economically privileged nation in the region.
Some also claim that Manning’s initiatives are based on a lifelong goal to dilute the political power of the East Indian community in his native land. According to this allegation, Manning wants economic and political unions with predominantly African states to thin out the economic and political power of the Indians outside the main support base of his political party.
The advocates of the new initiative would have to work hard and talk fast to dispel suspicions that it is a mere tool of Manning’s vaulting personal ambitions, or a facade for a future Trinidad and Tobago hegemony. They will also have to specify what this initiative will accomplish that cannot be achieved within established regional agreements.
This Article was published in the Editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper – August 29, 2008