Parliament's Role in Caribbean Regional Economic Integration

By Isaac, Elma Gene | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Parliament's Role in Caribbean Regional Economic Integration


Isaac, Elma Gene, Canadian Parliamentary Review


Today a group of small states in the Caribbean find themselves in what is arguably the most critical juncture of their economic and political life. These members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) stand on the threshold of establishing the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the symbol and the embodiment of regional integration. This paper will focus on the experience of these countries some of which rank among the smallest in terms of their share of the international market and in terms of physical size. The paper will trace CARICOM's economic integration efforts to date. It will argue that integration relies for its validity on the relationship that governments are able to develop with their people; that economic integration per se is not a viable goal; that a people-centric approach to integration gives it essence, ownership and longevity. Finally, it will con tend that if Parliaments are themselves to remain relevant, their role in the economic integration process must undergo transformation in tandem with and responsive to the realities of the people and regions they serve.

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Efforts to integrate the English speaking Caribbean date back to the short lived ten-member British West Indies Federation of 1958. Despite plans for establishment of a customs union, the federation placed little emphasis on economic aspects and consequently no fundamental changes were effected to the economic relationships among the member states.

Following the demise of the Federation in 1962 co-operation was continued through the Common Services Conference and other joint projects such as the Caribbean Meteorological Service established in 1963. Of even greater significance was the proposal by Trinidad and Tobago for establishment of a Caribbean Community to comprise the members of the Federation, plus the Guianas and all the islands of the Caribbean. In order to discuss this concept, Barbados, British Guiana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago convened the first Heads of Government Conference in 1963.

The integration movement developed rapid momentum thereafter. Between July and December 1965 three Caribbean countries discussed and established the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA), although they delayed its actual operation to allow several other countries to come aboard. The CARIFTA Agreement came into effect in May 1968 with four states and by May 1971 no less than twelve states had signed on to the CARIFTA Agreement whose stated objectives were:

* to promote the expansion and diversification of trade in the area of the Association;

* to secure that trade between Member territories takes place in conditions of fair competition;

* to encourage the progressive development of the economies of the area;

* to foster the harmonious development of Caribbean trade and its liberalization by the removal of barriers to it.

The Agreement made provision for such economic/trade matters as export duties, quantitative restrictions, rules of origin, restrictive business practices and trade deflection, as well as for particular arrangements for certain members confronted by special developmental challenges.

The vision of Caribbean leaders at the time went far beyond a Free Trade Association. The Heads of Government agreed that CARIFTA would be the Region's first step towards the establishment of the Caribbean Common Market, the means by which a viable economic community would be realized. Consequently, before the end of 1972, Caribbean leaders had made the decision to establish the Caribbean Community and transform CARIFTA into a Common Market, an integral and pivotal part of the Community.

Birth of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

The Treaty of Chaguaramas established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Caribbean Common Market, on 1 August 1973. Initially only Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago sig-ned the Treaty but subsequently, eight other Caribbean countries joined CARICOM. …

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