By SIR RONALD SANDERS
(The author is the Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the OAS. He is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College at the University. of Toronto, the opinions expressed are his own).
The tornado destruction of Kentucky, a state in the southeastern United States of America (United States), on December 12, has lessons for the countries of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), at dawn 2022 amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and weakened economies.
One of the lessons is that those CARICOM member states that continue to insist that CARICOM remain “a community of sovereign states”, each pursuing distinct policies – sometimes to the detriment of one another – commit to the way of perdition, because the facts of their situation justify.
Many sovereign CARICOM states would not be solvent without the official development assistance they receive. Their sovereignty is limited by the extent of their financial and economic dependence, which they pay the price for. Curiously, some of them prefer to pay a price to outside powers, rather than pooling their individual sovereignty within a common autonomous authority with their CARICOM partners in order to build their strength and resilience.
Why should people in other American states, like Texas or New York, care about the devastation in Kentucky? After all, Kentucky representatives in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, fiercely resist the US federal government. They want to retain power in the governor and legislature of Kentucky, just as some governments in the CARICOM countries insist on their “sovereignty.”
Kentucky is a state within the Union of 50 states that make up the United States. If the U.S. federal government doesn’t use domestic resources to help Kentucky rebuild, the state will fall into unemployment, poverty, and crime. It would eventually become a failed state. People would flee to find livelihoods elsewhere, and investors would move their money to economies that work. The federal government couldn’t allow Kentucky to fail, not even with people like Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul favoring state power over federal authority. If Kentucky were left on its own, it would become a weak link in the American chain, making the country vulnerable and exposing it to security threats.
The federal government has stepped up to provide immediate aid to Kentucky and to commit huge sums of money for its reconstruction and recovery, as the United States is one nation. It is not a group of sovereign states. If the United States were just a community of independent states, like the members of CARICOM, it would not be the greatest economic and military power in the world. Instead, 50 states would exist – some stronger and better endowed than others, but each of them much weaker individually than they are as a single nation, and certainly none of them. they are not a force in the world.
In shaping their independence, the original 13 countries (then the British colonies) debated a union with a strong federal government or a collection of independent and disparate states.
They opted for a strong federal government precisely because they recognized that only by joining their collective resources would they be strong enough to resist England, France, Spain and others. European powers which would have kept them dependent and enslaved.
From the very beginnings of CARICOM, governments, haunted by the collapse of the West Indies Federation caused by ambitious and manipulative local politicians determined to be big fish in small bowls have resisted the Union which would have reduced their vulnerabilities, strengthened their resilience and made them economically stronger.
What is striking about the years 2020 and 2021 is that the greatest success of the “sovereign” states of the Caribbean Community has come from joint institutions and collective action. No CARICOM country would have battled COVID-19 without the Caribbean Public Health Agency; none would have responded quickly enough to natural disasters without the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency; and none would have mobilized insurance relief without the Caribbean Disaster Risk Insurance Mechanism or the emergency resources of the Caribbean Development Bank.
As it stands, despite the help of regional agencies, almost all of them are now in debt and the recovery will be long and difficult, with the exception of Guyana with the addition of oil wealth and gas resources to its traditional resources of agriculture and precious metals.
Recently Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali, speaking to his country’s private sector, said that “regional integration and other ‘fantasies’ cannot be taken seriously until current (trade) barriers exist. are not deleted ”. He’s right about that. CARICOM claims to be a common market, but countries have erected trade barriers against themselves, while opening their markets to the European Union and the UK with little trade benefit in return. After nearly 50 years of existence, CARICOM is still not a common market and is far from a customs union. The much-vaunted “single market and economy” has become a fading aspiration.
But it is not only trade barriers that should be removed. CARICOM and its goals need to be reconsidered, reworked and reoriented. No one should be happy with their current condition; everything should be ready to rearrange it.
It is highly likely that CARICOM governments are still not ready for a more perfect union that could help isolate each CARICOM country from the serious challenges that lie ahead in 2022 and beyond.
However, if the past two decades have proven anything, it is that individual sovereignty is not the answer to economic progress or the resilience of CARICOM member states. Like Kentucky, they lack the financial capacity and resources for effective resilience.
In this regard, the CARICOM Treaty now needs to be revised. The mistakes of its last revision should not be repeated. Implementation mechanisms must be put in place to oversee the completion of a common market, including the free movement of all, just as there is the free movement of capital.
There should also be clear compensation mechanisms for states that dismantle protectionist policies. Countries that cannot adhere to these necessary actions should not delay the integration of others; they should opt out and consider joining later.
If CARICOM is to have meaning in the life of its member countries, further integration cannot wait.
Previous responses and comments: www.sirronaldsanders.com