| ||Regional economy plan mired in crisis|
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, January 23, 2009 - Even as Caribbean countries hope to present a more united front to confront the region's growing economic woes, the current global recession has made the complex transition much harder, experts have warned ahead of a special summit in Barbados at month-end.
The meltdown has prompted some Caribbean countries to announce their own economic stimulus packages. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General Edwin Carrington recently warned the crisis was "a very serious one" and that the region was not going to escape its impact.
"The question is how can we minimise it," he told reporters.
In 1973, Caribbean countries signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas reforming their free trade association, known as CARIFTA, into CARICOM, with a common market as a key part.
The new arrangement was intended to improve standards of living and work, accelerate economic development and expand trade and economic relations both inside and outside the bloc, while enhancing international competitiveness.
A new version of the treaty in 2000 encompassed the desire to transform the common market into a single market and economy - the CSME - in which goods, services and labour would move freely.
Last weekend, former secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States Norman Girvan, an expert on the development of a single regional economy, described a lack of "enthusiasm" towards the integration process.
"Our leaders are not prepared to take a qualitative leap into collective sovereignty and until and unless they are willing to do that, we are going to continue in a state of paralysis and go into a state of more and more fragmentation," he said.
Michael Howard, an economics lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), stressed that the present global economic crisis could seriously undermine the CSME.
"The Caribbean economies are not complementary in a way which would enhance an integration movement. Each economy seems to look outside to some other support system. What one finds is a problem of market failure," he said.
The January 31 special summit in Barbados is being preceded by at least four high-powered meetings involving regional technocrats, central bank governors and ministers of finance and comes amid calls for a new governance structure for conducting the business of the 15-member CARICOM grouping and the future of the CSME.
The Caribbean leaders are hoping to have the CSME fully implemented by 2015. But recent pronouncements, even by its supporters, have raised eyebrows as to whether that can be achieved.
Barbadian Prime Minister David Thompson, who has lead responsibility with CARICOM for CSME, has warned of changes in his country's immigration policy that would give employment preference to Barbadian nationals, a position contrary to the Revised CARICOM Treaty that governs the CSME.
UWI lecturer in political science Dr Tennyson Joseph said the language coming from the Barbados administration "would lead one to conclude that the current leadership is not pro-integration". (IPS)